Thursday, March 15, 2018

Official 2018 Drive and Dish NCAA Tournament Bracket and No-Holds-Barred Death Match Bracket Challenge


It's that time of year again.  The 2018 NCAA Tournament officially tips off today.  That means millions of college basketball fans (and degenerate gamblers) will be missing-in-action from school, work and other areas of their lives in which they have all manner of responsibilities to uphold.  

American GDP may temporarily dip anywhere from 10% to 30% for the first two days of March Madness, as the gears of the American economy grind to a near-halt because the nation's workforce has bailed out on work and on its other responsibilities in order to watch the daylong cavalcade of televised NCAA Tournament games.

Hard core fans of college basketball (and degenerate gamblers) are well known for treating the first day of the NCAA Tournament like children treat Christmas morning: they spend weeks, if not months, in eager anticipation of the moment  -- often going so far as to count down the days -- that the Big Dance finally arrives. 

The smartest college basketball fans (and degenerate gamblers), however, treat the first day of the NCAA Tournament like children treat Christmas morning for another important reason as well . . . because the first day of the NCAA Tournament is also the day in which Drive and Dish publishes its annual handwritten NCAA Tournament bracket!

And there's another import reason that those same smart college basketball fans (and degenerate gamblers) count down the days to the release of the official handwritten Drive and Dish NCAA Tournament bracket each year:  It's now just about the only time all year that Drive and Dish actually publishes anything new.

Much as deer spend the waning days of summer feverishly preparing for rutting season in the Fall —bucks viciously lock antlers and fight, instinctively understanding that it will be their only chance all year to procure a female for mating -- the smartest college basketball fans (and degenerate gamblers) spend their winters in anticipation of reading the enlightened basketball acumen that graces each megabyte of bandwidth used to host the official hand written Drive and Dish NCAA Tournament bracket . . . for they've come to instinctively understand that it could very well be their only chance all year to read the sage basketball wisdom of Drive and Dish!


Drive and Dish began publishing on March 8, 2007, as the major conference tournaments were wrapping up, and just before that year's NCAA Tournament field was revealed to the public by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.  At first, Drive and Dish co founder Mark Buckets wrote earnest articles about college basketball, while yours truly talked trash and published smart-assed, "click-bait" style blog posts written in "hot take" fashion about almost anything that was even remotely connected (however loosely) to college basketball or the NBA.

On the eve of the 2007 NCAA Tournament, yours truly toned down the smart-assery just a hair (though not all the way) in order to publish a rambling mashup of random thoughts about college basketball, titled "Deep Thoughts (About College Basketball)."  In that post, Drive and Dish made its  first official NCAA championship prediction (though it was done in a pretty unofficial manner) when yours truly correctly picked Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and Al Horford's Florida Gators to sober up just long enough to win the ‘07 national championship:

It's usually easy to identify the best teams in college basketball. There always seem to be at least two or three teams that are significantly better than everyone else, and thus, seem like sure-fire bets to reach the Final Four. That's not the case this year.
A lot of teams are pretty good, but nobody is really good.                                                                                                                                                                                         

Ohio State and Wisconsin top the polls, but they just don't appear to be championship caliber teams. Ditto for for North Carolina and Kansas. The only team I can think of that has what it takes to win a championship is...Florida.                                                                                                             

Hmm, Florida...where have I heard...hey wait, didn't they win the championship last year? And, wow, it looks like they have everybody back from last year's championship team.  

So why haven't they played better this year? Oh yeah! Gainesville is a party town. Those players are rock stars on campus and...they know that they're better than every other team in college basketball. Florida will get serious once the Tournament starts.

Drive and Dish published near daily for the next year or so, and in 2008, we began what would go on to become our now time-honored tradition of publishing our hand written NCAA Tournament brackets early in the morning of the first day of the Tournament (obviously before the games start).

We also filled out handwritten NIT and CBI (and eventually, CIT) brackets just for the hell of it in those days.  Oh, and Mark Buckets truly did yeoman's work back then by live-blogging every game of the Tournament (examples here and here).

Trouble started brewing, though, after Mark's Duke Blue Devils were upset in the first round by a then-unheralded Virginia Commonwealth team.  As soon as Duke slinked off the court after having been stunned and humiliated by VCU, Mr. Buckets abruptly burned out on live-blogging NCAA Tournament games (gotta admit though, live-blogging's not for everybody!) and flaked began to waver in his commitment to basketball blogging altogether (damn Millennials and their flakey troubles with commitment!). 

By that point, yours truly had soured on trash talking and "hot take" styled "click bait" blogging, and had begun to publish longer, better thought out pieces (known today as "long form" writing).  Mark Buckets left Drive and Dish for greener pastures and although yours truly kept pumping out semi-long form blog posts for some time, eventually it became clear that basketball blogging wasn't going to pay the bills (though in fairness, through this blog, we actually received some legitimate offers to write about basketball for well known websites).  Drive and Dish began publishing more and more infrequently, until eventually, the only thing we managed to get up each year was the aforementioned annual handwritten Drive and Dish NCAA Tournament bracket .

We explained it pretty well last year:

Drive and Dish was established in March of 2007.  In our ten years of existence, we've only undergone a handful of changes.  First, after receiving some constructive criticism on our original, basic, plain-as-vanilla Blogspot design, we adopted a slightly more stylized design template (with a Duke Blue Devils-inspired blue, white and black color scheme in order to appease the late Drive and Dish co-founder, "Dukie" Mark Buckets)... 
...Our second major change came when we began posting our hand written NCAA Tournament brackets on the eve of the 2008 Tournament.  Later that year, our third big change occurred when Mark Buckets retired from sports blogging in order to spend more time with hookers and blow his family.  Thereafter, the Drive and Dish blog became a sole proprietorship.

One of the biggest, and most unfortunate changes to Drive and Dish came after "life changes" * forced yours truly to curtail the amount of time spent blogging about basketball. This blog kept going in earnest, but its output slowed down to but a few posts per month.

* "Life changes" can refer to any number of life events that can cause one to reorient one's life priorities, including but not limited to the following: running from unpaid child support payments, tax liens, gambling debts, lost savings in a notorious Ponzi scheme, faking one's own death to get out from under one's debts . . . plus hookers and blow...
...The final change came about in 2013, when the blog went into complete radio silence, with the sole exception of posting the official Drive and Dish handwritten NCAA Tournament Bracket on the morning of the NCAA Tournament's opening day.

Longtime readers know that we're all about tradition here at Drive and Dish, so we're certainly not going to disappoint our readership by neglecting to publish our 2018 NCAA Tournament bracket.  However, this year we've added a twist -- Drive and Dish founder and longstanding Executive Publisher, Executive Producer and Assistant Associate Junior Copy Editor, "S.K." (formerly known around these parts as "T.S.", and sometimes still known as "yours truly") has accepted a challenge from "C.H." to publish dueling brackets in a no-holds-barred, all out battle to the death, handwritten NCAA Tournament bracket death match.

Neither "S.K" nor "C.H." has watched much college basketball this year, though yours truly has seen a few games throughout the season (mostly games from mid-major conferences though).  So really, neither of us is well prepared for this battle.  But we're looking forward to it nonetheless.

That much is tradition here at Drive and Dish.

Thus, in keeping with tradition, we submit our special 2018 Drive and Dish hand written NCAA Tournament death match brackets:

SK (aka, "T.S."):  



Just for the hell of it, here's S.K.'s official 2018 Drive and Dish hand written NIT bracket (there's no challenge, or no-holds-barred death match for this one though, because nobody really cares about the NIT):

Monday, April 3, 2017

2017 NCAA Championship Game: North Carolina (Who Else?!) vs. Gonzaga

North Carolina will play Gonzaga in tonight's 2017 NCAA Men's Championship game.  North Carolina is appearing in its twentieth NCAA Final Four -- the most Final Four appearances of any NCAA Division I Men's basketball program -- and will be playing in its second straight NCAA title game (the Tar Heels lost the 2016 NCAA Championship game on a buzzer-beating three point shot by Villanova's Kris Jenkins).

Gonzaga, by contrast, will be playing in its first-ever NCAA Championship game, after having just made its first Final Four appearance in school history during Saturday's semifinal win over South Carolina.

So what's the official Drive and Dish prediction for tonight's Championship game?

Dunno.  Hate to say it, but haven't seen enough of either team this year to have an informed opinion. This has been something of a "gap year" for Drive and Dish.  It's the first year in decades in which none of the writers, editors or reporters associated with Drive and Dish have payed attention to college basketball during the regular season.  Our interns didn't even watch college basketball this year (they didn't even watch their own colleges' teams)!  For the 2016-'17 season, we've been more or less like the average sports fan in America, insofar as our viewership of college basketball only began in March.  Accordingly, our Official Drive and Dish NCAA Tournament Bracket was the worst one we've ever posted.

In other words, you shouldn't listen to anything we say, and you're wasting your time if you read another word we write.

Having said that, we think that Gonzaga has its most talented team in school history, and as such, probably has an outside chance tonight against Head Coach Roy Williams' Tar Heels.  But North Carolina is stacked from top to bottom with big, athletic and talented players . . . as they usually are. 

Perhaps most importantly, the Heels are a veteran, experienced team.  Having played for the NCAA title last year, they should know exactly how to handle themselves on the big stage that tonight's game will present.  

North Carolina will probably come out and try to run Gonzaga off the court early in the game.  

For Gonzaga, the first key to the game will be playing with poise and not letting North Carolina set the tone early on.  A bigger key, though, for Gonzaga will be the play of 7'1" 300-plus lb big man Przemek Karnowski. Karnowski will have to stay out of foul trouble in order for the Zags to have a chance against the talented and experienced Tar Heels.  Gonzaga has other good big men who should be able to keep pace with Carolina's bigs, but they're young and inexperienced.  The massive Karnowski is Gonzaga's "X-factor."  If he's able to play extended minutes, Gonzaga may be able to hang around in this game.  But if the referees give North Carolina a little bit of "home cookin'" (as they've done in NCAA Tournament title games in the past), and blow the whistles early and often against Karnowski and his teammates, it will be a long night for the Zags.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket

Drive and Dish was established in March of 2007.  In our ten years of existence, we've only undergone a handful of changes.  First, after receiving some constructive criticism on our original, basic, plain-as-vanilla Blogspot design, we adopted a slightly more stylized design template (with a Duke Blue Devils-inspired blue, white and black color scheme in order to appease the late Drive and Dish co-founder, "Dukie" Mark Buckets).

We made those adjustments early in 2008, and haven't touched a single element of this blog's layout since that time.  So stylistically, Drive and Dish is stuck in 2008.  Incidentally, we're probably stuck in 2008 in other ways too.  For instance, we still have Young Jeezy, The Black Eyed Peas, Akon, David Guetta and Thirty Seconds to Mars on our official Drive and Dish iPod. And we're starting to get into an up-and-coming young cat from Miami called Pitbull.  Don't sleep on Pitbull.  We think he could blow up big this summer!

Come to think of it, maybe it's time we ditch the iPod for one of those new iPhones. We understand that the iPhone lets you play music on your phone!  Our official Drive and Dish Blackberry Bold could finally be on its last legs!

Our second major change came when we began posting our hand written NCAA Tournament brackets on the eve of the 2008 Tournament.  Later that year, our third big change occurred when Mark Buckets retired from sports blogging in order to spend more time with hookers and blow his family.  Thereafter, the Drive and Dish blog became a sole proprietorship.

One of the biggest, and most unfortunate changes to Drive and Dish came after "life changes" * forced yours truly to curtail the amount of time spent blogging about basketball. This blog kept going in earnest, but its output slowed down to but a few posts per month.

The final change came about in 2013, when the blog went into complete radio silence, with the sole exception of posting the official Drive and Dish handwritten NCAA Tournament Bracket on the morning of the NCAA Tournament's opening day.

Longtime readers know that we're all about tradition here at Drive and Dish -- thus, we present the official handwritten Drive and Dish 2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket (apologies for filling them out with a leaky pen):

* "Life changes" can refer to any number of life events that can cause one to reorient one's life priorities, including but not limited to the following: running from unpaid child support payments, tax liens, gambling debts, lost savings in a notorious Ponzi scheme, faking one's own death to get out from under one's debts . . . plus hookers and blow.

Monday, April 4, 2016

When the 2016 NCAA Tournament began, we published our handwritten 2016 NCAA Tournament bracket right here on the front page of Drive and Dish (as has been our custom since the early days of this blog).  We predicted that North Carolina would beat Villanova in the 2016 NCAA Championship game.


Tonight, North Carolina and Villanova will, in fact, play each other for the NCAA Championship.

That means that we got the final two teams of the Final Four correct!  So give us a gold star for our prescience, or something!

But do we still think that our prediction of North Carolina winning yet another NCAA Championship will come true?

Yeah, probably so.

In our NCAA Tournament bracket posting, we admitted that we'd viewed too little college basketball this year to consider ourselves experts on the subject of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.  But we also mentioned that we'd seen just enough of the top teams in the Tournament to know which teams were for real, and which were mere pretenders.

North Carolina and both Villanova stood out as being the real deal.  In short, they passed the cliched "eye test" with such flying colors that we forwarded them through to our bracket's National Title game without so much as even glancing at either team's respective Tournament résumé or analytical profile.

Our Championship Game synopsis is as follows:  North Carolina is probably too big, too talented and too deep for Villanova to overcome.  And their best player, Marcus Paige, also happens to be a savvy, experienced senior, which has become a rarity in big time college basketball.  So they'll probably win.  

But Villanova is an outstanding team in their on right, and we wouldn't be at all surprised if they were to pull off what would be a major upset.  That said, talent, size and depth win NCAA Championships.  North Carolina has more future NBA players than Villanova does.  So in the end, North Carolina will probably win.

But despite the presence of North Carolina alums in the family of one of Drive and Dish's editors, we'll be pulling for Villanova.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Our Bracket Was So Bad Last Year That We Took the Rest of the Year Off From Blogging ... So Here's Hoping We'll Do Better This Year!

Another year has passed since last we corresponded.

Our bad.

The last time we posted on this blog was to continue the longstanding Drive and Dish tradition of publishing our handwritten NCAA Tournament bracket . . . for 2015!

Regrettably, we've let another year slip through our grasps without publishing so much as a random thought, inane joke, half-cocked prediction, or expletive laden, late night drunken rambling about the game that we (still) love.  But as inattentive and incompetent as our blogging has become, we'd nevertheless be loathe to permit the NCAA Tournament to begin without at least keeping up the Drive and Dish tradition of sharing our handwritten bracket with our readers (however many, at this point, remain).

Come to think of it, managing to merely dribble out but a single, poorly thought out, and meagerly argued post per year has probably become a Drive and Dish tradition in and of itself.

But we're all about tradition, so here's our bracket:

We have North Carolina beating Villanova in the National Championship game, and we have three teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in the Final Four.

Hopefully, we'll be a little more accurate than we were last year, though that's probably unlikely, since we watched just about as little college basketball as we did last year ... which, incidentally, is why we've been so negligent in our basketball blogging.

Nevertheless, we've seen enough mid major basketball this year to know that there are some good teams from the obscure conferences that will score first and second round upsets.  And we've seen just enough of the big boys' games to have a good feel for which teams are for real and which teams are pretenders.

So while we're not as up-to-speed about college basketball as we have been in years past, we're still fairly confident in our opinions of those teams that we have seen play this year,  however few they may be.

Or maybe we're just cocky and full of hubris (again).

The Official Drive and Dish 2016 NCAA Tournament Bracket

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Drive and Dish Goes Old School (Again), Fills Out 2015 NCAA Tournament Bracket By Hand (Again)

It's been a long time.  Drive and Dish has been silent for the last year.  The last time we posted new content on this blog it was to release our handwritten 2014 NCAA Tournament Bracket to the world... and it appeared exactly 364 days ago.

We didn't even continue our long-running tradition of posting a thorough scouting report on Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.

We probably owe our readers (those who remain) an explanation for our protracted absence.  But most likely, nobody cares about that. 

So what do our readers care about?

Well, assuming anyone still cares about the Drive and Dish take on basketball, our readers want to see the official handwritten Drive and Dish NCAA Tournament bracket.
Thus, we're obliged to deliver (even though we haven't delivered a damn thing else this year):

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Drive and Dish: Return of the Bracket

Drive and Dish has been inactive since last year's NCAA Tournament title game.

Sorry about that.

But just as the city of Chicago's dearly departed rise from their resting places each election day in order to fill out their straight-party ballots, we've returned in order to publish our annual handwritten NCAA Tournament Bracket.

Disclaimer: It's been a long year, and your humble author has viewed a grand total of *four* college basketball games this season.  So our picks are based on nothing more than our general impressions of each team's roster, coaching staff, strengths, weaknesses, health, potential position-by-position match ups against potential opponents and record since the second week of February. 

So even though we have something resembling a general formula for making our picks -- it's a "formula" that's served us pretty well in the past, by the way -- we're completely "winging it" this year.

Thus, without further ado, we issue our 2014 NCAA Tournament Bracket:

Monday, April 8, 2013

2013 NCAA Championship Game Preveiw

Tonight, Louisville will play Michigan in the 2013 NCAA Basketball Championship game.  Nobody at Drive and Dish is a gambler, so we haven't checked the Las Vegas lines for tonight's game.  But we're reasonably certain that Louisville is the heavy favorite.

Drive and Dish didn't fare so well in predicting the Final Four in our 2013 NCAA Tournament bracket.  To our credit, we correctly anticipated Syracuse's surprising (at least to the "experts") upset of Indiana en route to the Final Four.  But we expected Duke to get to Atlanta instead of Louisville, and expected Ohio State to get there instead of Wichita State.

We actually weren't terribly surprised by Wichita State's surprising Final Four run.  We've been paying attention to the Missouri Valley conference for a long time, and we've long been aware that head coach Gregg Marshall and his Wichita program are top notch.  Of course, we didn't pick them to get to the Final Four in our bracket, but we definitely considered them to be a team that could make a deep Tournament run.

We picked Kansas to win the Championship, and of course, they lost in overtime to Michigan in the Elite Eight.  When filling out our bracket, we tried to anticipate how each team would match up against each other.  We thought that Michigan was the real deal, but we expected Kansas to cause match up problems for the Wolverines.

And we weren't wrong.  Kansas did give Michigan all kinds of problems.  In fact, Michigan had to put together a herculean comeback effort just to tie Kansas at the end of regulation (which they with a dramatic buzzer-beating three pointer courtesy of Trey Burke). 

Kansas did everything in the book to beat Michigan, but in the end, they got upended by a performance for the ages by Burke -- the eventual college basketball player of the year.

So what do we expect to see in tonight's Championship game?

We expect a very close game that goes down to the wire.  Neither team is clearly superior to the other.  They're both extremely well coached, they've both got size, and they're both loaded with talent and depth. 

Louisville has four players who will be on NBA rosters in the near future: Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng.  But Michigan has three players who are clearly certain to be future NBA first round draft picks: Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Mitch McGary.

Louisville will apply full court pressure defense on Michigan for the entire 40 minutes of regulation, and when they have the ball, their lightning-quick guards will relentlessly attack the lane, drawing Michigan defenders in and creating easy layups and dunks for the Cardinals' big men, and open three pointers for perimeter players off of kick outs.  All Rick Pitino coached teams do those things.

But Michigan has an electric offense as well.  If Burke can break down Louisville's tough defenders, it will open up good looks from the three point line for Michigan's talented three point bombers.

The "X" factor for Michigan will be freshman big man McGary.  If McGary can establish himself from inside and out on offense early, it will force the shot blocking Dieng to focus on trying to stop McGary, and draw him away from swatting other Michigan players' shots.  Perhaps more importantly, if McGary and Michigan's big men can get Dieng into foul trouble, the lane will open up for Michigan.

And since we expect tonight's game to be so close, we think that it will probably turn on fouls.  The team that gets in foul trouble first will probably be the team that comes up short.

We think these teams are so closely matched, that neither team will get much more than a 4-6 point lead.  Thus, fouls will be critical.  The team that loses players to foul trouble first will probably lose.  Concurrently, the first team that gets to shoot foul shots in the bonus will probably win.

Drive and Dish is usually pretty certain about who we expect to win, but we think this one will be so close that it could go either way.  Louisville probably should win, but we think Michigan has the guns to bring home the Big Ten's first Championship since 2000. 

We'll go out on a limb and take Michigan ... with the caveat that Michigan will be massively screwed if either Burke or McGary finds himself in foul trouble early.  If that happens, Louisville will be too much for Michigan, and Rick Pitino  will have coached his second school to an NCAA Championship (Pitino won an NCAA Championship at Kentucky in 1996).

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Drive and Dish Fills Out NCAA Tournament Bracket, 2013 Edition

Drive and Dish was launched one week before the start of the 2007 NCAA Tournament. In 2008, we began publishing our handwritten NCAA Tournament brackets. The night before our first brackets appeared, Mark Buckets and yours truly spent the wee hours deliberating over our picks in a then-24 hour Kinko's in the western suburbs of Chicago. Mr. Buckets abruptly retired from sports blogging during Duke's upset loss to West Virginia in the second round of that year's Tournament. He came out of retirement to pen a post or two later in the week, but left blogging for good after the 2008 Final Four.

Drive and Dish Senior Editor Trashtalk Superstar took sole responsibility for handwriting and publishing the annual Drive and Dish NCAA Tournament bracket in 2009. Like a monk who spent years copying the Bible by hand during the Dark Ages, Mr. Trash Talk devoted himself to handwriting and publishing the Drive and Dish brackets for the remaining years.

The 2010 Drive and Dish NCAA bracket proved to be our most prescient. Drive and Dish eschewed the conventional wisdom (we were among the few who didn't pick Kansas that year) and correctly predicted that Duke would win it all. To be sure, we never envisioned that the Blue Devils would meet then-unheralded Butler in the Championship game, but our selection of Duke was a bold pick at the time. Believe it or not, virtually nobody picked Duke to win it all that year.

We had previously predicted an eventual NCAA champion that most "experts" missed when we picked Florida to win its second consecutive NCAA Championship in 2007, even though the defending champs' lackluster regular season performance had caused most of those "experts" to write them off (we didn't publish our brackets that year, so readers will have to work their way through the bullet points in the linked post to find the Florida Championship prediction).

Duke in 2010 and Florida in 2007 seemed fairly apparent to us because we make our picks based on how we expect teams to match up against each other.  By the time teams get deep into the Tournament (i.e., past the Sweet Sixteen), match ups become the most important factor in determining the outcomes of games.  Put simply, teams don't get to the Elite Eight unless they're talented and are playing well, so games played deep in the Tournament turn on match ups and momentum swings. 

When filling out an NCAA Tournament bracket, it's not to hard to pick winners by envisioning how the various winning teams in your bracket figure to match up against each other at each position on the floor.

Of course, predicting winners based on match ups doesn't guarantee that you'll be right every time.  Drive and Dish picked Duke to win it all again in 2011, even though the Blue Devils lost some key starters from the 2010 Championship team to graduation.   That year, Duke fell short as Connecticut came out of nowhere to win head coach Jim Calhoun his third NCAA Championship.

And last year, we ended picking North Carolina to beat its mortal enemy Duke in what we expected to be hyped up to be an NCAA Championship game for the ages (because it would pit bitter conference rivals North Carolina and Duke against each other).  Instead, Coach John Calipari's freshman-laden Kentucky team won the Championship and forever discredited one of Drive and Dish's long-held "ironclad rules": namely, not to expect championship caliber play from teams that rely on freshmen at several key positions.

But envisioning potential match ups is still the preferred way of filling out our brackets here at Drive and Dish.

So we employed that method when we filled out our 2013 bracket.  It needs to be stated, though, that our 2013 bracket should come with the following disclaimer: the current proprietors of Drive and Dish eschew watching television.  So the Drive and Dish 2013 bracket has been completed in spite of Drive and Dish writers' relatively limited exposure to televised college basketball in the 2012-2013 season.  We've viewed select games online, but our focus has been on Notre Dame, the Missouri Valley conference and the Big Ten conference.  We've probably seen enough of Notre Dame and the Big Ten, though, to know the Irish and each Big Ten team inside and out.   That said, we're not as well acquainted with the entirety of NCAA Division I basketball as we have  been in years past.

That was the case last year and in 2011 as well (which, come to think of it, could well explain why we didn't see Connecticut coming in 2011 or see Kentucky coming last year).

Still, it wouldn't feel like March without Barack Obama sitting down with the media to discuss the finer points of his bracket in an Obama Bracket Unveiling Special on national TV, and without Drive and Dish publishing its hastily assembled, hand-written bracket a few short hours before the first Thursday game of the Tournament tips off.

Thus, without further ado, we present our 2013 NCAA Tournament bracket:

Monday, December 24, 2012

Scouting Report on Santa, Christmas Eve 2012

Ever since Drive and Dish began its run in 2007, we've published an annual Christmas Eve scouting report on Santa.  In 2009, personnel losses, as well as business, work and life demands forced the Drive and Dish proprietors to cut back on our hoops blogging.  As a result, Drive and Dish went from being a blog that published on a daily basis (at least during basketball season), to a blog that published only a few times per week.

Over time, Drive and Dish devolved even more -- we eventually reached the point where even multiple posts in a single week became the exception, rather than the rule.  But while output went down, the quality of our writing probably went up.  After all, if our writers found some issue or occurrence to be so compelling that they (we) moved heaven and earth to blog about it, the resulting Drive and Dish post was likely to be well thought out and, accordingly, at least fairly well-written.

Without a doubt, though, the posts that we most enjoyed writing were our annual Christmas Eve scouting reports on Santa.  Year after year, the scouting report was more or less the same.  In the interest of saving time and space, here's the ultra-truncated, Cliff/Spark Notes-style version of the annual scouting report: Santa is old and fat, but since  he can still pilot his flying sleigh to every corner of the globe (minus Saudi Arabia, Iran and most of Pakistan) in a single evening and sneak into and out of your house to leave presents by sliding down your chimney and jumping back up to the roof, it's fair to say that he hasn't lost a step, that he can still sky, and that he's still got his hang time.

This year, we've let the blog go more than ever before.  Without doubt, it's been the most stressful and trying time for our remaining writers/editors since the blog was founded.  Since the start of basketball season in October, Drive and Dish editors have been involved in the liquidation of two corporations and the sale of the corporations' commercial real estate.  We've also been trying to lay the groundwork for the start-up of something new (but more on that later).  It's been a chaotic time around here, and as such, we've neglected our blogging duties.  So this year, we don't have a new scouting report on Santa to post.  We're just referring our readers to last year's scouting report.

But if you must know the truth, we'll probably be able to slide by with last year's scouting report because we've heard that even though Santa is a year older and a few pounds fatter,  he can still pilot his flying sleigh to every corner of the globe (minus Saudi Arabia, Iran and most of Pakistan) in a single evening and sneak into and out of your house to leave presents by sliding down your chimney and jumping back up to the roof, it's fair to say that he hasn't lost a step, that he can still sky, and that he's still got his hang time.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Independence Day/4th of July

Drive and Dish wishes all our American readers and friends a happy 4th of July/Independence Day.  Of course, we hope that all our non American readers and friends have a great day too, but since Americans celebrate their nation's birth every July 4th by picnicking, drinking alcoholic beverages and watching fireworks (sometimes setting them off too), our 4th of July "shout outs" are targeted at our American friends.

Last night, one of the Drive and Dish editors finished playing basketball at a gym in Burr Ridge, IL, and walked out into the gym's parking lot as the Burr Ridge firework show was starting.  So he took a video of the show.

The camerawork gets a little shaky at times (as does most handheld video), but it's nothing major, and it doesn't detract much from the video.  We hope you enjoy it:

Of course, Drive and Dish officially endorses leaving the July 4th pyrotechnics to the professionals.  People who set off their own July 4th fireworks are asking for trouble ... especially if they're drunk.   You don't want to end up like one of these guys:

Friday, June 22, 2012

Gang-Related Violence Explodes In Upscale Chicago Locales: Is Chicago Becoming Detroit?

University of Cincinnati Professor Emeritus of Political Science, and native Chicagoan, Abraham Miller, writes at the conservative PJ Media about the recent eruption of violent, gang-related crime in some of the most affluent parts of Chicago:

Streeterville is a quiet, upscale part of Chicago that encompasses the Magnificent Mile and is just south of the Gold Coast. Northwestern University’s Law School is in Streeterville, as is its hospital. Oprah has an apartment in Streeterville. A close friend of mine once lived in Steeterville, and I spent many a late night walking off jet lag on its streets. After all, if you’re not safe in Streeterville, where are you safe?

As a physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital learned the other night, you’re really not safe in Streeterville.  Accosted by a “flash” mob of black teenagers, the physician was repeatedly hit and beaten.  He wasn’t robbed.  He says the motive wasn’t racial, as he’s Asian.  But typically such mobs are black and their victims are whites, who are abused with racist insults while they’re being injured.

The physician observed that the teenagers had accosted others before they attacked him. The teenagers were simply looking to have fun by hurting someone, and the next someone was him. And, of course, this is not the first instance of such mob behavior flowing out of the deteriorating inner city into the city’s wealthier areas. It isn’t even the first foray into upscale Streeterville. The criminals now have done what any species does when it exhausts the resources of its immediate environment. They have moved on to another habitat.

Streeterville, and Northwestern Memorial Hospital in particular, are relatively frequent haunts for some the proprietors of this blog.  So we know both the area, and the institution well.

And as bad as it may sound, when the Drive and Dish proprietors initially heard that there had been an attack on a young, male Northwestern physician, we more or less assumed that he was probably, well, Asian.

That's not to say that the roving bands of teenaged and pre-teen thugs who have been venturing into posh Chicago neighborhoods from their ghetto stomping grounds aren't on the hunt for white guys to beat down.

They most certainly are.

But Northwestern is full of young Asian doctors.  And on the whole, Asian-American males tend to be smaller, and tend to appear less threatening than their white American male counterparts.

Is that an unfair stereotype?  Sure, but, like so many stereotypes, it's rooted in a level of truth.  

Of course, most of the time the teenage thugs (or "youths," as the media prefers to call them), hit upscale, urban white guys -- most of whom appear as soft as tapioca pudding to thugs from the 'Hood.  But just as in nature, where predators tend to prefer hunting the weakest (i.e., easiest to catch) prey, 13-15 year old up-and-coming ghetto thugs will hit the softest-looking target they can find.

Up-and-coming "shorties" from Da 'Hood tend not to care that stereotyping people by their race or ethnicity violates the principles of political correctness.  And since even 13 year old ghetto thugs  know that most young Asian-American doctors don't know to fight like Bruce Lee and didn't work their way through medical school by busting kneecaps for the Yakuza ... well ... do the math. 

That the young Asian-American Northwestern physician would be so hopelessly naïve as to actually assume that a throng of black, teenaged ghetto thugs would leave him alone simply because he's not white ... well, again, do the math. 

But if the clueless, Asian-American physician from Northwestern has his head planted firmly in the sand, so too does most of Chicago.  Miller hits on a couple of largely unspoken factors that have been quietly enabling Chicago's dysfunctional inner city street gang culture for years -- indifference and the reliance on smug, bien-pensant politically correct tropes:

Sure, Chicago, like most major American cities, has its crime-polluted neighborhoods where going out on the street at night is about as safe as going out in Baghdad. We all know how to avoid those, unless our economic circumstances regrettably compel us to live in such neighborhoods. Last week, 53 people were shot in Chicago. Most of us will dismiss this as an irrelevant statistic.  After all, we know without reading the papers where those people live: in the south and west sides. There, the population is largely black or  Latino,  gangs fight turf wars over the drug trade, and getting a gun is not only a rite of passage but also is more common than getting a high school diploma...

We assume that because people who look like the victims are also the perpetrators, it’s not our problem. Our continually reinforced ethnic tribalism really comes down to: we don’t give a damn about black-on-black violence or what happens in the deteriorating parts of our city. We can be smug about gun control because none of our neighbors are shooting each other. We can be self-righteous about microscopic adherence to due process because none of us will have to testify in open court against people who belong to vengeful criminal organizations.

Such delusions are part of what makes us not only smug but also hypocrites. We invoke the notion that poverty causes crime.  If only we’d have greater redistribution of income and wealth, all this would go away. We take comfort in the idea that there is a solution to the problem. Why not? It’s ingrained in our psyches, pontificated as one of the few real “laws” of social science, and comes to us as strongly from the classrooms as it does from the bar stools. We can, thus, avoid the thought of 53 white people being gunned down on our streets over a few days.

Miller then raises a critically important question and challenges one of the aforementioned longstanding politically correct tropes: does poverty cause crime (as we're always told), or is it the other way around?

(The) late James Q. Wilson so artfully pointed out decades ago, it might be that poverty causing crime is just another logical fallacy. Wilson challenged us to think that maybe it’s the other way around: crime causes poverty.
My brother drove a chemical tanker in Chicago. He was a big, powerful man who had been an amateur boxer. One day, while he was setting up his hoses on the south side to pump chemicals into a factory’s tanks, a group of teenagers surrounded him and demanded his money. He carried a spiked billy club for such purposes and instead of producing his wallet produced a lesson in night stick justice. When he returned to his yard, he told his dispatcher that he’d never deliver to that business again. Next time, he said, the kids might have guns and a shot would explode the flammable chemical truck and take out a city block.
 Eventually, no driver would deliver to the business. The business moved to the northern suburbs and with it went the neighborhood jobs. Repeat this by tens of thousands of times encompassing all types of crimes, and you get a snapshot of an environment where few are eager to invest capital or write insurance. Add to that a demographic of low education and criminal conviction, and you have a labor force no one is eager to hire.
 As gangs of black teenagers roam the streets of places like Streeterville looking for nothing else but to hurt people, we need to realize that the social order has changed. More important, we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that if we just pump more money into the inner city, the problems of teenage violence will be solved.

Last night, mere hours after Dr. Miller's PJ Media piece was published, there was a gang-related shooting on Chicago’s famed Magnificent Mile at Michigan Ave. and Ontario St. That’s the most high-end and high profile location yet to get a taste of Chicago’s burgeoning citywide explosion of violent crime.

For years, Chicago got a bad rap, as most people around the country — conservatives in particular (especially after the advent of Chicago’s own Barack Obama) — mistakenly thought of the Windy City as some sort of impoverished, post-apocalyptic Rust Belt war zone inhabited by gang-bangers, project-dwelling “welfare queens,” mustachioed blue collar fat guys in Bears jerseys from an old Saturday Night Live skit (Da Bears!) and … well, Eskimos. But Great Lakes locale aside, Chicago never actually suffered much from the kind of decline that sucked the life out of nearby crumbling Great Lakes cities like Detroit (and to a lesser degree, Cleveland) over the past 35-45 years.
That’s not to say that Chicago didn’t have its share of God-forsaken, hell hole neighborhoods that were overrun with poverty, gangs and violent crime. Chicago, in fact, had those in spades. But what people outside of Chicago often didn’t understand is that Chicago proper was, is, and has always been, home to both areas of great wealth and areas of great poverty, and that Chicago’s notorious crime-infested precincts have largely been confined to sections of the South and West Sides — two areas that were/are more or less isolated from the rest of the city.

The heart of Chicago, though, with its pedestrian-friendly lake shore and canyons of skyscrapers, has traditionally been as safe, as clean and as crime-free as the central part of any big city in the country.

Unbeknownst though it’s apparently been to much of the country, Chicago’s center core became so gentrified that, for years, it’s been safe enough to walk alone at night through great swaths of the city, including its bustling downtown business district, its fashionable Near North Side (Streeterville, River North, the Gold Coast, Magnificent Mile, etc.), its North Side Yuppietopia (Lincoln Park, Wrigleyville, Ravenswood, Roscoe Village, Andersonville, etc.), and even its trendy/hipster regions on the ever-gentrifying Near West and Near Northwest Sides (Greektown, Fulton Market, West Town, Ukrainian Village, Wicker Park, Bucktown, Logan Square, etc.).

Contrary to the widespread perception of Chicago as some kind of gritty, hardscrabble, post-industrial wasteland, the aforementioned areas have heretofore mostly served as urban versions of the kinds of upscale, safe, Caucasian-dominated hamlets that the professionally angry black journalist Richard Benjamin disparagingly terms “Whitopias.”

Chicago’s central location, no doubt, accounts for much of its up-to-now mostly unfounded bad reputation. Opinion makers from the East Coast don’t typically set foot on non-coastal real estate unless they have to.  So Chicago usually doesn’t figure very prominently in their collective consciousness ... unless, of course, it’s being used to fulfill some kind of unflattering regional stereotype (i.e., violent racist crackers from the South; dumb, "Bible-thumpin'", "gun-totin’" hillbillies from Texas; fat, blue collar rustics from the Midwest, etc.).

Thus, it’s been easy for people to conflate Detroit and Chicago, and to lazily assume that Detroit’s problems are Chicago’s. After all, they’re both older, industrial cities in in the upper Midwest…

But perhaps more so than any American city (other than New York, of course), Chicago has, over the past 20 years, come to resemble a European city of sorts, replete with a wealthy, expansive and largely white central core, and with poor, high-crime areas that have been pushed ever farther to the city’s far-flung edges (not unlike the Paris and its crime-infested banlieues).

The bulk of Chicago’s crime, however, has historically been contained to neighborhoods which are best described as being in "the ‘Hood," and thus, it never much figured in the lives of people in the heart of the city.  That general attitude of indifference to crime was even prevalent during the much-hyped crime wave of Summer 2010, when a rash of gangland shootings grabbed headlines and figured prominently on the Drudge Report (thus, “confirming” the preconceived notions so many conservatives had of Chicago as a Detroit-style ghetto hell hole).

The big secret that everybody in Chicago intrinsically understood — and which, of course, could never be acknowledged in polite company — was that as long as the crime and violence stayed in the ghettos on the South and West Sides (well, at least crime and violence of the non-white collar variety, non-Italian “wise guy” variety and non-City Hall “Corruptocrat” variety), the rest of the city didn’t really give a rat’s a** about who shot whom.

And even though the city has become so overextended (err, broke) that it’s slashed 3000 officers from the police force since 2007 (those curious as to why violent crime has been on such an dramatic upswing in Chicago might start by pondering that fact), the mostly good liberals of Chicago’s fashionable parts can be forgiven if they adopted a “see no evil” attitude.

If it’s not in your back yard, it’s not your problem.

Of course, that all changes the minute that it comes to your back yard. And with gang shootings and gang-related violence having suddenly moved downtown and into ever more upscale sections of the city since last summer, it’s everybody’s problem now (even if a lot of wealthy downtown liberals are uncomfortable acknowledging the ethnicities of the perpetrators).

None of that is likely to register in the national consciousness, though. For most, Chicago’s recent troubles will just confirm what they already knew (or thought they knew) … that Chicago is just like Detroit.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Date Which Will Live in Infamy

Today marks the tenth anniversary of an event that forever lives in infamy.  We're referring, of course, to Allen Iverson's infamous 2002 meltdown over the question of whether or not he was exerting enough effort in practice (practice!?!).  

Just one year removed from having led his 76ers to the NBA Finals and being awarded the NBA's Most Valuable Player award, Iverson and the Sixers were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by the then-unheralded Boston Celtics.  When asked about then-coach Larry Brown's suggestion that he hadn't taken taken practice seriously enough throughout the 2001-'02 season, Iverson lashed out at his questioner with a ... uh ... philosophical tirade against the merits of exerting oneself in practice. 

(Video: ESPN)
Iverson: "Iz easy to sum it up when you just talk about practice. We sittin' in here, I supposed to be the franchise player, and we talkin' about practice. I mean, it, listen, we talkin' about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, we talkin' about practice. Not a game. Not a ... not a... not da game dat I go out dere and die for and play every game last itz my last. Not da game, we talkin' about practice man..."

Over the past decade, that tirade has become the stuff of legend.

In the category of sports tirades that center on one word which begins with the letter "P," Iverson's "practice!?!" tirade ranks second only to former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Mora's "playoffs!?!" tirade.  And with Mora's aforementioned "playoffs!?!" tirade and Dennis Green's "the Bears are who we thought they were!" tirade, Iverson's "practice!?!" tirade comprises one third of the Holy Trinity of 21st Century sports meltdowns.

Of course, Mora, Iverson and Dennis Green have nothing on former Chicago Cubs' manager Lee Elia, whose infamous 1983 post game meltdown still occupies its own wing of the Pantheon of post-game meltdowns.

And although it doesn't count as a post game meltdown, former Baltimore Orioles' manager Earl Weaver's legendary 1970s era rant on his Manager's Corner segment of the Orioles' pre-game show still ranks as, perhaps, the most colorful sports tirade of all time (¡Cuidado!: audio = "NSFW"). 

Compared with Elia's and Weaver's tirades, Ted Nugent's recent, much-hyped rant on the CBS news comes off as pretty weak sauce. 


We've heard from some readers who objected to the absence of former Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight's infamous 1993 warning to his Hoosier team about the perils of losing to Purdue (NSFW, of course).  We didn't include Knight's tirade because it was a closed-door speech given to a team that Coach Knight believed to be under-performing (and because the speech was secretly recorded by somebody with a mini-recorder!), rather than an interview given to the media for consumption by the public.  Knight didn't know that there was a tape recorder in the room; his team was the only intended audience for the speech.

The other tirades in this post all occurred during interviews given to media by the ranting athlete or coach.  Knight's tirade wasn't supposed to be heard by anyone but his team.  For that reason, it shouldn't be classified as a "meltdown."  It was, instead, a motivational speech.  And an effective one at that.

For that reason (and a few others) Knight's rant should probably be designated as the "Official" Drive and Dish basketball motivational speech (it's certainly our favorite).

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter

Apropos of the cartoon above, budget cuts have forced Drive and Dish to cut back on our use of words. So we'll keep this post short and cut to the chase: Happy Easter.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Kentucky Wins Championship

(Picture: New York Daily News).

As was widely expected, Kentucky won college basketball's National Championship on Monday night, overpowering Kansas 67-59. Kentucky now owns eight overall NCAA Championships in men's basketball. Interestingly, controversial head coach John Calipari got his first NCAA Championship by leading the "blue blood" Wildcats past Bill Self's "blue blood" Kansas Jayhawks (Kansas and Kentucky--along with North Carolina, Duke, Indiana and UCLA--are frequently referred to as college basketball "blue bloods" because, like the old East Coast WASP blue blood elites who dominated the American institutions of yesteryear, they're the privileged, elite ruling class of college basketball). In 2008, Calipari's Memphis Tigers narrowly lost in the NCAA Championship game to Kansas and Self.

Drive and Dish editors were at a wedding when the Final Four games were played on Saturday. As such, we missed Kentucky's win over Louisville, and only managed to catch the last ten minutes of Kansas' win over Ohio State. Our editors got off a plane and only returned to the Drive and Dish viewing room in time to catch the second half of Monday night's Championship game. So we don't have much to say about the game itself.

We do, however, think that college basketball is very watered down these days, and although we would have preferred to have been able to watch the Final Four, we weren't particularly thrilled about the prospect of watching Kansas and Kentucky in the Championship game. John Calipari has put together an impressive assortment of NBA-ready talent on each of his three Kentucky teams (Calipari left Memphis for Kentucky in 2009). But the main players on his teams only stick around college for one year before they bounce to the NBA. Thus, watching Kentucky has more or less become akin to watching the NBA Rising Stars Challenge.

Sorry, but it's just hard to get excited about that. We'd be hard-pressed to disagree with the following commentary from the Washington Post/Bloomberg News:

In a very real sense, the ending of this game and this season was a microcosm of what college basketball is in 2012. As soon as the final buzzer sounded, the Super Dome was filled with sound, not from celebrating fans, but from the Hollywood-like pyrotechnics the NCAA insists on bombarding people with in its attempts to glitz up an event that doesn't need to be glitzed up.

Nowadays, though, all the sound and noise fits because the national title game has the feel of an NBA all-star game, and most of the players who make it to the Final Four dream first of that game and the billboards and shoe deals that come with it rather than the game Kentucky won on Monday night.

Perhaps it is time for the NCAA to change it's cheesy post-championship theme song. Instead of "One Shining Moment," a new song: "One Moment and Done," words and music by Calipari, might be more fitting.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Final Four: Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State, Kansas

The Final Four is set. Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio State and Louisville won their Regionals and advance to next weekend's Final Four in New Orleans. Unlike 2010 and 2011, when mid-major "Cinderellas" Butler and Virginia Commonwealth shocked the world and advanced to the Final Four, the 2012 Final Four field is comprised entirely of the usual suspects.

Louisville competes in the Big East Conference, but geographically, the East Coast is entirely shut out. Three of the four teams come from schools within 100 miles of Cincinnati, Ohio. The fourth, Kansas, comes from the heart of the heartland. It's an entirely Midwestern and Mid South Final Four.

Syracuse was the top-seeded team in the Tournament, but Syracuse alumni who work in the national sports media (in other words, most of the national sports media) will have to content themselves by pulling for Louisville to defend the Big East's honor. Casual fans who've enjoyed rooting for Cinderella "Davids" (i.e., Butler) to knock off college basketball "blue blood" "Goliaths" (i.e., Duke and Connecticut) in the last two NCAA Championship games will be faced with the likelihood of watching "blue blood" Kentucky play "blue blood" Kansas for the right to hand yet another NCAA Championship banner in the rafters.

On a more personal level, Drive and Dish editors will be stuck at a wedding in south Georgia while Saturday's games are being played. But if we get the chance, we may try to hit Interstate 10 on Sunday morning and see if we can get to New Orleans by evening. If so, we'll be hanging around the Final Four for Monday's Championship game.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Drive and Dish 2012 NCAA Tournament Bracket

Drive and Dish was launched one week before the start of the 2007 NCAA Tournament. In 2008, we began publishing our handwritten NCAA Tournament brackets. The night before our first brackets appeared, Mark Buckets and yours truly spent the wee hours deliberating over our picks in a then-24 hour Kinko's in the western suburbs of Chicago. Mr. Buckets abruptly retired from sports blogging during Duke's upset loss to West Virginia in the second round of that year's Tournament. He came out of retirement to pen a post or two later in the week, but left blogging for good after the 2008 Final Four.

Drive and Dish Senior Editor Trashtalk Superstar took sole responsibility for handwriting and publishing the annual Drive and Dish NCAA Tournament bracket in 2009. Like a monk who spent years copying the Bible by hand during the Dark Ages, Mr. Trashtalk devoted himself to handwriting and publishing the Drive and Dish brackets for the remaining years.

The 2010 Drive and Dish NCAA bracket was particularly noteworthy. Drive and Dish eschewed the conventional wisdom (we were among the few who didn't pick Kansas that year) and correctly predicted that Duke would earn head coach Mike Krzyzewski his fourth NCAA Championship. To be sure, we never envisioned that the Blue Devils would meet unheralded Butler in the Championship game, but we deserved some credit for what was (at the time) a bold pick. Believe it or not, virtually nobody picked Duke to win it all that year.

Our 2010 Duke pick was reminiscent of when we picked Florida to win its second consecutive NCAA Championship in 2007, even though the defending champs' lackluster regular season performance had caused most of the "experts" to be Gator skeptics (we didn't publish our brackets that year, so readers will have to work their way through bullet points to find the Florida Championship prediction).

Drive and Dish picked Duke to win it all again in 2011, even though the Blue Devils lost a few key starters from the 2010 Championship team to graduation. We ended up being wrong: Duke fell short and Connecticut came out of nowhere to win head coach Jim Calhoun his third NCAA Championship.

This year, we ended up with North Carolina beating Duke in an NCAA Championship game for the ages. To be clear, we don't actually think the game will be that good. North Carolina should waltz to the Championship . But if our prediction comes to pass, the game will be deemed a "game for the ages" simply due to the novelty of having the two biggest conference rivals in college basketball face each other for the third time this season while playing for the championship.

Of course, our 2012 bracket should come with the following disclaimer: yours truly hasn't had a TV for two years. So like last year's brackets, the Drive and Dish 2012 brackets have been completed despite the fact that Drive and Dish writers' exposure to college basketball in the 2011-2012 season has been limited to internet viewing of select games and to catching a few minutes of games here and there while out and about (come to think of it, maybe that's why we didn't see Connecticut coming last year).

Our 2012 bracket:

Normally, we list several things to watch for below our brackets. But this year, since we haven't seen many games, there really isn't much that we can say with much authority. But we have seen St. Bonaventure play and we think they could surprise people. Of course, they play Florida State in the first round, and the Seminoles have beaten Duke and North Carolina. A few more things:

* Everybody seems to have Kentucky winning it all, but we're skeptical (as we always are of John Calipari's teams). Kentucky has the talent, but do they have the mental toughness and experience that teams with upperclassmen typically have? Toughness and experience are two essential ingredients that National Championship teams must have.

* We picked Virginia Commonwealth to beat Wichita State (primarily because we're so sick of witnessing Illinois fans salivate over VCU coach Shaka Smart that we figure his team will go on a tear that forces us to put up with two weeks more of Illini fans' slobbering), but Wichita State is good enough to make it to the Sweet Sixteen, and maybe beyond.

We've seen Wichita St. a couple times this year and have been pretty impressed. Gregg Marshall is an outstanding coach. He turned tiny Winthrop into a perennial NCAA Tournament participant before bolting for Wichita, and he's got the Shockers' on the national map. Marshall will be pursued by several BCS conference schools that have coaching openings.

* We picked New Mexico State to surprise Indiana. Indiana should win the game, but NMSU is the type of off-the-radar team that can give the big boys all kinds of trouble in the first round Tournament games.

* Nobody has impressed us in 2012 more than Notre Dame. Most of the games we managed to watch online were Fighting Irish games. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the young Irish, but when senior Tim Abromaitis was lost for the season after tearing his ACL, it looked like the season could turn out to be a disaster. But Mike Brey's team knocked off ranked Big East team after ranked Big East team and wound up back in the Big Dance ™.LinkBrey won national coach of the year in 2011. He probably deserves it even more this year.

That said, we have Xavier beating Notre Dame in the first round. We think Xavier's toughness could give the Irish trouble.

* Ohio University is a dark horse team that a lot of people like to make some noise. Head coach John Groce is a rising star in the game. If the Bobcats make a run in the Tournament, he'll have plenty of opportunities to go to bigger name schools (although he probably won't find a nicer campus than the one where he works now -- Ohio University's campus is gorgeous).

We don't think Ohio will beat Michigan though. The Wolverines aren't very big, but they're tough and they can score. We do, however, expect Ohio to give Michigan a run for their lives. But in the end, coach John Beilein's Wolverines should pull it out and advance to play another day.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Nerds vs. Jocks: Mapping Out NBA Shots Taken Since 2006

In the classic 1984 comedy Revenge of the Nerds, the affable, but tormented nerds of the Lambda Lambda Lambda fraternity marshal their superior brainpower to get last laugh on their dumb jock tormentors from the Alpha Beta house. In the years since Revenge of the Nerds became a hit, the "nerds outsmart the dumb jocks" storyline has seemingly been recycled ad infinitum.

Keith Olbermann essentially built his sportscasting career -- and helped build the ESPN SportsCenter empire -- by taking a page from the Revenge storyline: nerdy ethnic oddball uses his wit and verbal acuity to enact revenge for a lifetime of being tormented, "wedgied" and stuffed into lockers by cool jocks at school poke fun at the college and professional athletes he covers (Olbermann co-hosted SportsCenter with Dan Patrick on ESPN prior to his better-known career on MSNBC as America's favorite foaming-at-the-mouth liberal political talking head).

But ESPN didn't retire the "nerds outsmart the dumb jocks" schtick (or at least the "clever non-athlete outsmarts the big dumb ex-jock" schtick) when Mr. Olbermann was shown the door in 1997. ESPN radio -- and other sports talk stations from coast to coast -- regularly employ the oft-drawn-upon formula that pairs a quick-witted and sardonic "smart guy" with a big, "dumb" former professional athlete (or at least one who plays "dumb"). The joke is that the smart guy who never played sports actually knows a lot more about sports than the dumb buffoon who played the game!

These days, the "nerds know sports better than jocks" narrative has become the conventional wisdom, thanks in large part to the runaway success of Moneyball.

The 2011 film Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt, is based on Michael Lewis' 2003 bestselling book on baseball economics, Moneyball. Both book and film tell the story of Oakland Athletics' General Manager Billy Beane, a former major league player who turned to advanced statistical analysis -- known as sabermetrics -- to evaluate players when he found himself saddled with a limited budget upon taking over as the Athletics' GM.

Beane's early A's teams won on the cheap. So he was touted as a genius and his abandonment of traditional methods of player evaluation in favor of advanced numbers crunching became the order of the day in Major League Baseball. In practically no time, all the other teams revamped their player evaluation processes to incorporate Beane's statistical models.

That Mr. Beane was no nerd before he turned to statistics -- a former major league player and scout can hardly be called a nerd -- is irrelevant. So, apparently, is the fact that the A's haven't returned to the playoffs since 2006. We're living in the Moneyball era. Statistics rule and number crunching nerds are ascendant: the pencil-necked pencil pushers and their equations have once-and-for-all triumphed over the wisdom of the dumb jocks (or so the smart people say).

Now it seems like every nerd and numbers guy under the sun is citing statistics to show that they know more than the dumb jocks. And it's not just baseball: everybody from the former star University of Chicago and Harvard Law professor and current Obama administration Regulatory Czar who (allegedly) debunked the concept of the "hot hand" in basketball (multiple academic studies exist which purport to debunk the myth of the hot hand) to the FedEx deliveryman and basketball statistics enthusiast who predicted that Jeremy Lin would be a star NBA point guard back in 2010 is seemingly in the game.

So it makes sense that the lefty political nerds at Salon would get into the game too: "What Geography Can Teach Us About Basketball":

The annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, created in 2006, has become something like Bonnaroo for sports nerds. And if there was a breakout star at this year's gathering, held at MIT this past weekend, it may have been Kirk Goldsberry, an assistant professor of geography at Michigan State (and currently a visiting scholar at Harvard). At Sloan, Goldsberry—whose dissertation "investigated real-time traffic maps" and who has also used geography to examine "access to nutritious foods in urban areas"—considered the ways that sophisticated statistical mapping can illuminate the game of basketball, in a paper called "Court Vision: New Visual and Spatial Analytics for the NBA."

You only have to glance at the maps Goldsberry produced to know that stat-friendly teams will pounce on these things. As the New York Times basketball blog Off the Dribble noted over the weekend, "about a third of the league’s arenas have recently installed camera systems that capture and log the position of every player on the court 25 times a second." As a result, many teams now have incredible amounts of data they can visualize in some of the ways Goldsberry suggests.

For the map above, for instance, Goldsberry divided roughly half an NBA court (from the baseline to just past the 3-point line) into 1,284 "shooting cells." Then he plotted every shot taken in an NBA game from 2006 to 2011, and color-coded the results. The areas which yielded the most points per shot appear near the red end of the color spectrum; those that yielded the fewest are at the blue end.

If you've read anything about scoring efficiency in basketball, the resulting image will not surprise you (though its elegance is striking). But it conveys far more quickly and powerfully than a set of numbers can what kind of shot distribution an NBA team should be going for, generally speaking.

The takeaway: If you ever needed confirmation that the mid-range game is a relic of the past, you've got it now. Most shots taken in the NBA from 2006 to 2011 were either layups, dunks or three pointers. The baseline jump shot no longer exists.

Gone are the days when post players like Adrian Dantley, Kevin McHale and Mark Aguirre would beat you with post moves inside, and then beat you with post-up turn around jumpers when you tried to push them off the block. Gone too is Karl Malone's 15-20 foot jumper that forced opposing big men leave the lane and chase him out into no (big) man's land.

Scottie Pippen's bank shots from between the elbow and the baseline? Yeah, they're gone too. But if you've been paying attention to the NBA over the last few years, you probably already knew as much.

Kevin Garnett is one player who still takes a lot of mid-range shots (Garnett idolized Dantley and McHale while growing up), but he's a definite outlier. Kobe Bryant takes a lot of mid-range fade aways, but since he shoots whenever he has the ball (regardless of where he is on the court), it doesn't count for much against the larger statistical pattern.

The NBA has gone the same way that college basketball has gone over the last 15 years: nobody wants to take a shot that's not a layup, a three pointer or a dunk.

Rick Pitino changed college basketball when he was coaching at Kentucky in the early and mid 1990s. Pitino decided that shots outside of the lane, but inside of the three point line were a waste of time. He figured that if you're going to take an outside shot (any shot taken from beyond 5-10 feet from the basket), you might as well take one that's worth three points if it goes in, rather than two.

So that's what Pitino's Kentucky teams did. And after they made back-to-back Final Fours in 1996 and 1997 (which included a National Championship in '96), other teams around college basketball started adopting a similar style.

The mid-range game disappeared from college basketball in the late 90s. It took a little while longer for it to disappear from the NBA, but the disappearing act is all but complete now.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Northwestern Gets Closer to First NCAA Tournament, Michigan State Loses Key Player to Injury

Northwestern kept its NCAA Tournament hope alive beating Iowa 70-66 in the last game of the regular season today. Northwestern has never been an NCAA Tournament participant. Last week, Drive and Dish examined the recent history of Northwestern basketball and the significance of the Wildcats' pursuit of their first NCAA Tournament bid.

Northwestern now has an 18-12 overall record, and an 8-10 record in Big Ten conference play. As we explained in last week's aforementioned Drive and Dish post, we weren't optimistic about the Cats' chances for getting their first NCAA Tournament invitation after they fell just short of upsetting No. 10 Ohio State on Wednesday. But with the end-of-season collapses of other Big Ten teams that were on the NCAA Tournament "bubble" (we're looking at you, Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa), NU's chances quickly got a lot better.

Northwestern finished the regular season in seventh place in the Big Ten. Since the Big Ten has been widely regarded as the most competitive conference in college basketball this season, it's likely that seven Big Ten teams will get into the NCAA Tournament. If Northwestern beats Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament later this week, they will almost certainly be rewarded with their first Tournament invitation.

Drive and Dish believes that Northwestern could be dangerous in the NCAA Tournament. Northwestern has run the famed Princeton offense since Bill Carmody implemented it when left Princeton to become the Wildcats' head coach in 2000. The Princeton offense is notoriously difficult for opposing teams to prepare for, and teams that run it have had a great deal of success playing the role of "Cinderella" in the NCAA Tournament.

This year, Drive and Dish wouldn't be surprised to see Northwestern wearing glass slippers in the "Big Dance."

The news isn't as good for Michigan State though. Star freshman small forward Branden Dawson tore his ACL in today's 72-70 loss to Ohio State. Dawson will undergo reconstructive knee surgery and 6-9 months of rehabilitation.

Obviously, he won't be able to play in the NCAA Tournament.

Until today, Drive and Dish had expected Michigan State to be a serious contender for the 2012 National Championship. We thought they had an excellent chance to make it to the Final Four, and at least a decent shot at giving head coach Tom Izzo his second Championship. But Dawson's season-ending injury makes that considerably less likely.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Road to First NCAA Tournament Berth Gets Tougher for Northwestern

Northwestern entered the 2011-2012 season with high hopes of earning its first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament. After tonight's nerve-wracking 75-73 loss to No. 10 Ohio State, Northwestern will likely once again find itself on the outside (of the Tournament field) looking in.

If ever there was such thing as a "must win" game, tonight's contest with Ohio State represented that for Northwestern. The Wildcats came into the game clinging precariously to the NCAA Tournament "bubble." When the game tipped off, they had a 17-11 overall record, with a 7-11 record in the rugged Big Ten. The main credential on Northwestern's NCAA Tournament resume was an impressive mid January win over then-No. 6 ranked Michigan State. But after that, the Northwestern resume was a bit thin: their only other "big" win was an early February win at Illinois.

That's why tonight's home finale against Ohio State was so big. With an upset over the No. 10 Buckeyes, Northwestern would have had two signature wins over opponents ranked in the top ten of the AP Top 25. Even with a win, Northwestern still probably would have needed to beat Iowa this weekend and win a game in the Big Ten Tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament. But a late-season upset win over Ohio State would have made Northwestern's case for receiving a bid to the NCAA Tournament considerably more credible.

That's also why Jared Sullinger's tie-breaking and game-winning turnaround bank shot with 3.1 seconds was so crushing. The Wildcats overcame a 13 point defecit late in the second half to tie the Buckeyes in the game's final seconds. Momentum was on the 'Cats' side and they were that close to taking the game into overtime (at home, no less -- overtime is usually kind to the home team); Sullinger's game-winner was dagger that probably ended whatever chance Northwestern had of making its first appearance at the "Big Dance."

However dispiriting tonight's loss may be for the Northwestern basketball program and its fans, a brief look back at the road that led Northwestern to the NCAA Tournament "bubble" provides some needed perspective. Overall, Northwestern basketball is a success story. The once-perpetually moribund Wildcat basketball program has slowly and quietly become a legitimate second-tier competitor in the Big Ten conference. Head coach Bill Carmody was originally hired away from Princeton in 2000 to install the famed "Princeton offense" at Northwestern, and thus, give the ever-undermanned Wildcats at least a fighting chance to a "hang" with their athletically superior Big Ten rivals. In recent years, however, Carmody has been able to attract significantly better players to the highly-selective Evanston, Ill., school. As a result, the Wildcats have gotten a lot better: they've made three straight N.I.T. appearances, and they put together back-to-back 20 win seasons in 2010 and 2011.

The one big thing they haven't done yet, though, is make it to the NCAA Tournament.

All the gradual improvement of the Carmody era has been great (however deliberate and plodding the Wildcats' style of basketball may be), but Northwestern basketball won't have officially turned the corner and won't officially be on the college basketball "map" until the Wildcats take the floor in the NCAA Tournament. Things, however, looked quite promising prior to the start of the 2011-2012 season: with what the "experts" expected to be a "weak" Big Ten (how wrong they were!); with the attendant expected "wide open" open Big Ten race; and with four returning starters coming into 2012 -- including leading scorer John Shurna -- 2012 was supposed to be the year.

Obviously, things didn't exactly work out as expected. The Big Ten turned out to be the strongest conference in Division I college basketball. Outside of Penn State and Nebraska, every Big Ten team has, at various points in the season, looked like a potential NCAA Tournament invitee. Northwestern had an easy non-conference schedule and subsequently raced out to a 10-2 non-conference record (which included wins against LSU, Seton Hall and Georgia Tech). But the rough-and-tumble Big Ten brought the Wildcats back to Earth a bit, and despite the aforementioned impressive wins over then-No. 6 ranked Michigan State and at Illinois, Northwestern limped into tonight's home finale against Ohio State with a 7-9 conference record and in desperate need of a win to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

They're now 17-12 overall, 7-10 in the Big Ten. And barring some "bat out of Hell" run in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament, Jared Sullinger's game winning shot likely relegated them to their fourth consecutive N.I.T.

(Photo: Jared Sullinger game-winning shot, courtesy of Lake the Posts).