Al’s preseason predictions for NCAA men’s college basketball

Al for most of 2010

This has been one of the worst years to be a UNC fan. First, there was the horrible performance of the men’s basketball team that began in January of this year. Then there was the nightmare of the Duke national championship, which was all but gift-wrapped and handed to them by the NCAA selection committee and the other #1 seeds who laid down and died for no discernible reason. And then, UNC fans learned that a group of football players and an assistant coach (now former) figured that they could violate NCAA rules without getting caught while others looked the other way. And all for—get this—a team that until recently, had not beaten UVA or N.C. State in four years and lost every bowl game it was in.

I have seen no signs that this new basketball season will erase the pain of the last 10 months, so with that in mind, I submit these predictions, aka “Al’s nightmare” for the ESPN/USA Today preseason top 10:

1. Duke: Despite finishing second in the ACC regular season behind Maryland, Duke will remain ranked no. 1 throughout the entire season and will easily win the ACC championship, landing a #1 seed in whichever is the most advantageous region for them in the NCAA tournament. In a final four that consists of Duke, Seton Hall, Michigan State, Bowling Green State University (I’d like to thank Small Arms McGee for furnishing the name of this team), Duke will beat Seton Hall and Bowling Green State to win it all. The name of the Naismith Award will be changed to the Krzyzewski Award. People will conveniently forget that Wooden had more championships and call K the best and most successful men’s basketball coach in the history of the game. By 2012, Krzyzewski will be credited with inventing the game.
2. Michigan State: Despite a slow start to the season, which will include a loss to #1 Duke and to Texas and two inexplicable back-to-back losses to Northwestern and Penn State, knocking them down to about 11 in the rankings, they will finish strong to defeat Ohio State in the Big 10 Conference Championships. This will land them a no. 2 seed in the region least advantageous to them, where they will have to play the toughest opponents. This will wear them out so that they are too tired to beat Bowling Green State in the Final Four, setting Duke up for yet another win. Izzo will continue to be admired by most rational basketball fans but mocked by Duke fans for always coming up short in the NCAA tournament.
3. Kansas State: Kansas State will start out strong in the early season with a nice win over Florida in December and move into the No. 2. spot after Michigan State loses to Northwestern and Penn State in December. They will hang onto that spot until losing at Kansas in January. Despite an embarrassing loss at Nebraska, they will end up in the Big 12 Championship game and lose to Kansas. However, the NCAA selection committee will still give them the second No. 1 seed, but it will be in a region as far away from Manhattan as possible given the tournament venues. Sadly, they will exit the tournament in the Sweet 16, falling to Temple.
4. Pittsburgh: Pitt will beat all of their opponents in December and January (including Tennessee) only to lose to Georgetown, Syracuse, West Virginia and Louisville so that they end up in 4th or 5th in the conference and bow out early in the Big East tournament. They’ll be given a courtesy No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament and lose in the Sweet 16 to Bowling Green State.
5. Ohio State: The Buckeyes will not seriously be challenged by any out of conference team, squeaking by opponents with scores like 57 to 54, and will probably be ranked #4 after Pitt loses to Georgetown. They will win the Big 10 regular season and will beat Wisconsin in the Big 10 tournament in a game that is about as exciting as watching your laundry spin in a front-loading washer or waiting for water to boil, only to lose to Michigan State in the final. They will still be the third #1 seed in the NCAA and will make it to the Elite Eight only to lose to Seton Hall 71 to 68, which will be their highest score of the season.
6. Villanova: Jay Wright’s team will stay in the top 10 for most of the season, losing only to Syracuse and Pitt and ending up in the Big East Championship final game after beating Pitt in a rematch, only to lose to Seton Hall, who will end up being the Big East Champ. However, based on their finish as #1 in the Big East, Villanova will earn the fourth No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but will lose in the Elite Eight, again to Seton Hall.
7. Kansas: The Jayhawks will have a tough year, because they will be without Josh Selby until the NCAA clears him on January 1, 2011 (this hasn’t been a very good year for Kansas fans either). They will most likely lose to Arizona, Memphis, Cal and Michigan (the score in that game 60 to 58 will be the lowest number of points Kansas will score all season) until Selby gets in the groove and leads them to the Big 12 Conference championship, which they’ll win. They’ll get a no. 3 seed and lose in the Elite 8 to Bowling Green State.
8. Purdue: The loss of Hummel will be felt by the Boilermakers, but because they play in the Big 10, they’ll still have a solid season. They’ll beat Virginia Tech handily in the Big 10 – ACC Challenge, but this will set them up for a loss at Alabama, just as Purdue fans are beginning to think they might be contenders without Hummel. They’ll recover and go on to win several more games before losing to West Virginia 64-54. After that, their season will be a series of ups and downs and they’ll exit the Big 10 tournament in the second round. They’ll land a no. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament and lose to Tennessee in the Sweet 16.
9. UNC: The Tar Heels will go 7 – 4 in November and December and fall out of the rankings, after Barnes trips over the goal post in the Hofstra game and hits his head on Zeller’s knee, breaking Zeller’s kneecap and falling into a coma. One bright spot will be a win over Kentucky. After squeaking by St. Francis of Pennsylvania on January 2, the Tar Heels will learn that Barnes has come out of the coma. In his excitement, Roy Williams will leap up and accidentally smack a female reporter in the face, which Duke fans and other ABCers will describe as “Roy punches female reporter in the face” while the UNC Sports Information Office declines to comment. Trying to make amends, Roy will apologize to the reporter, explaining that it was an accident, but will make matters worse by adding, “I was just so happy. That li’l rascal coming out of the coma is even better than the rescue of those miners in Chile.” UNC ends up 3rd in the ACC (only because the rest of the conference is so horrible), after Barnes rejoins the team the last week in January. They end up with a No. 6 seed in the tournament, but lose in the second round to Syracuse. UNC fans pretend they’re happy that UNC made the tournament at all and won a game, but actually they are seething with rage and disappointment.
10. Kentucky: Out of conference, Kentucky will lose only to the ranked teams, including UNC and in conference, they’ll lose to Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi State (in double overtime). They will play Florida for the SEC championship and lose, but will still end up with a No. 2 seed. They’ll lose in the Elite Eight to Gonzaga only because I will have picked them to win in that bracket and Gonzaga has spoiled every bracket I’ve ever made since they started going to the tournament. There will be lots of predictions that their season will be vacated as Calipari haters and bloggers come up with extremely convoluted stories of corruption and agents, but in the end, Kentucky’s season will stay intact as the NCAA decides to take another look at Baylor’s recruiting instead.

Recent Sports Developments from a Curmudgeon’s Point of View

Al puts on her curmudgeon's cap for this round of commentary

For those of us who love college football and basketball above all other sports, this is a tough time of year. Yes, the NBA playoffs are on but since they go from now until Wimbledon starts (or it so it seems), I can’t get excited about them yet. I’ll be more interested in them around Memorial Day. And, yes, baseball season has started, but I’m a Braves fan who has been denied round-the-clock Braves coverage since I moved away from Atlanta, so I’m not seeing a lot of their games. I do know about that Colorado no-hitter against the Braves (unfortunately), but that’s about it and it’s enough to make me flashback to being a Braves fan in the 1970s.

I don’t know why, but I seem to be suffering from the post-CBB doldrums more than usual. Maybe it’s because, for me, a season in which UNC sucked and Duke won the National Championship is best spent in denial. So, in my mind, there hasn’t been any college basketball since April 2009. However, thanks to a significant other’s love of SportsCenter in both Spanish and English and the continuous ESPN broadcasts at my gym, I’ve been forced to take notice of some recent developments. And that has prompted me to share my curmudgeonly views on them.

68-team NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament expansion

Whew, we really dodged a bullet on that one? Right? Um, wrong. If I had the power to give awards, the NCAA would get one for “Sneakiest Way to Handle Tournament Expansion.” This was brilliant from a spin and public opinion perspective. Have a couple of NCAA officials and former officials hint that “expansion is possible” and let ESPN and other sports outlets run with a 96-team tournament scenario, getting college basketball fans all riled up and arguing the pros and cons. Then, after letting us rant and wail for awhile, they say, “We’re only adding three more games.” This completely deflated most complainers while fans like me were relieved and happy that we don’t have to worry about a bracket with 96 teams–yet. Continue reading

The Emperor’s New Clothes (or Why I Hate Duke)

Duke and Coach K - An example of what happens when a morality tale becomes real life

I’m an old-time UNC fan. When I showed up in Chapel Hill as a freshman in the fall of 1978, Bill Foster was the head coach at Duke and our hated rivals were N.C. State and UVA. I had had the privilege of meeting the Duke basketball team in the spring of 1978 because they stayed in the Hyatt Hotel in Winston-Salem for the ACC Tournament that year and I worked in the only gift shop in the hotel at the time. They were all super nice guys. I shook Bill Foster’s hand and wished them well in the tournament, although I was really hoping I could meet the UNC team and that UNC would win it all.

During my four years at UNC, Duke did little to raise our ire, except for one incident in which Mike Gminksi elbowed Dave Colescott in the eye in a Duke-UNC game that wasn’t very memorable otherwise. When a seemingly friendly, meek, mild-mannered new coach showed up in Durham in 1980, he barely registered on the radar because from 1980-1982, we all wanted UVA and that sniveling, whining Terry Holland destroyed.

In 1986, Duke played Louisville in the National Championship game. I remember it well. I was visiting my parents and my father and I sat down to watch it, fully prepared to pull for the ACC team. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but by the second half, my father (who is one of the best sports alive–always willing to cheer an ACC team on) and I were so filled with loathing for Coach K and his team that we began cheering for Louisville and we were elated when they won. I think that, even then, it was that combination of arrogance and entitlement radiating from the Coach and the players that so angers basketball fans now that made us start pulling for Louisville. Anyway, it was on that day that my hatred for Duke and Coach K was born. My father also points to that date as his turning point. I only pulled for Duke twice after that and it was in the 1990 and 1991 games against UNLV. Given how I feel about Duke now, I almost wish I could take those games back.

The arrogance and obnoxiousness of K and his minions along with the pictures of refs with farm animals that keeps them all in his pocket, which have been covered so well by others like the Sensei and I’m Just a Number to You, fan the flames of my anger and loathing. However, what kicks it up a notch to completely irrational hatred is the fact that I feel that Coach K is a fraud (as are many of the Duke players) that the mainstream media, especially ESPN, has been perpetrating and sustaining for years. Not only that, but Coach K uses a dastardly mastery of spin to feed on the fraud. It’s like an amped up version of  story of the Emperor’s new clothes. Why amped up? Well, in the story of the Emperor’s new clothes, the emperor is merely a naked stooge convinced that he’s wearing gorgeous garb, but in this real-life version, Coach K is a willing participant in the fraud. He uses his ads and his official website to further the idea that he’s not only the best coach in the land, known for brilliant coaching and revolutionizing the game, but he’s the elder statesman of college basketball, an embodiment of all that is right and good in the sport.

Bullhockey. Several years ago, a writer who is often associated with the Carolina Water Cooler and the Inside Carolina basketball message board (and whose name I’ve forgotten) wrote several blog posts detailing why K is neither brilliant nor revolutionary (unless you include stealing the flop from European soccer and using it to draw fouls on opponents who are about to win the game or slapping the floor). He said many of the things that I’ve thought for years and I wish I could find the original articles. Coach K does have the old school style of emphasizing fundamentals like layups and foul shooting, but it’s not anything special. Nor is jacking up threes. I of course understand why being great free throw shooters is so important to K – if you’re going to draw fouls and win the game based on free throws, your team needs to be good at them. I also understand that three-point shooting is the kind of thing that makes the media act like a bunch of slobbering dogs having their tummies rubbed into ecstacy. Hence their love affair with the elfin-eared J.J. Redick.

The fact is that, since 1980, many of the Duke teams have not been that special. K’s been riding his back-to-back championships for years, the second of which was won by a guy who should have been removed from the game for his intentional foul with malice aforethought. K feeds the myth that his team is invincible by not playing any OOC teams that are any good and by not traveling to many opposing teams’ courts. He also schedules teams that he can beat by 35 points to make the victory look more impressive in this new era of believing that a team is only good if it decimates its opponents – even if those opponents have just recently started a basketball program or the words Division III are associated with their names. Until this year, Duke had never lost in the Big 10 challenge, which sounds impressive, until you see that while other ACC teams were taking on Ohio State and Michigan State, Duke was playing Indiana and Michigan in their down years.

Then there’s the NCAA Tournament. The media loves to tout all of his trips to the NCAA, his astonishing (and usually undeserved) number 1 seeds and all the trips to the final four and the final game, but if you look at it another way, that’s actually a story of ineffectiveness. From 1980-2009, Duke has been in 11 Final Fours and only won 3 championships. They’ve also been seeded No. 1 11 times and only won 3 championships. They’ve taken gifts from the NCAA selection committee (such as their No. 1 seed in 2005) and still exited before the Final Four–often in the Sweet 16 and before. If any other coach had that record, he’d be ridiculed as a failure.

What gets me the most, though, is this elder statesman crap. This is a guy whose players stomp on opposing players’ chests and punch people in the nose to prevent them from making a layup. And, instead of keeping a low profile after the incidents, he takes to the media microphone and implies that his players’ violent actions were the fault of the opposing team. What’s infuriating about this is that it starts a firestorm of discussion about how long you should keep your starters in a game you’re winning, puts the other team on the defensive and completely deflects the fact that K keeps all his starters in for as long as possible, even when he’s playing the Durham School for the Deaf and the Blind and Sampson County Community College in the early part of the season. Meanwhile you can just feel the smirks emanating from his Holiness’s office on the Duke campus.

One of the biggest frauds ever

So, there you have it. Duke’s coach is a cheating, hypocritical, fraudulent spinmeister who can turn seemingly decent guys like Gerald Henderson into mob-like goons. (Beware, Kyrie Irving.)  Meanwhile, every time you turn around, you have to hear about what a great guy he is and how Duke is the most prestigious team in college basketball (with the basis for that honor being skewed by only looking at the years when Duke was a success). Add all this to a succession of overhyped underperforming, violent, whiney players like Greg Paulus, Brian Zoubek, Chris Collins, Wojo and Josh McRoberts and the recent gift the NCAA Selection Committee gave Duke in the South region and you’re left with one question. What’s not to hate?

Picking through the ashes of what was once my bracket

Al's 2010 NCAA Men's Tournament Bracket

For most of the morning, I’ve been looking for something good in the smoldering remains of what was once my 2010 NCAA tournament bracket picks. The fact that I, like Flop, got an astonishing 7 out of the 16 teams in the Sweet 16 correct, which is the worst I have ever done in a history of spectacular bracket failures that began in 1999 with the advancement of Gonzaga, is mind boggling. I am extremely upset about Villanova. I feel like Jay Wright let me down personally. I am in a icy cold rage that Duke will now probably make it to the Final Four for the first time since 2004 and we will now have to hear about the resurgence of the greatest college basketball program ever ad naseum from ESPN and CBS.

Al reacts to the Kansas loss

But the worst is the stunned horror I felt as I watched Kansas implode Saturday night.

I had scouted Northern Iowa earlier in the year because of my prediction series in December and January and they didn’t impress me then.  I still can’t believe that a Bill Self-coached Kansas team failed to dominate a group of guys who looked like they’d be as equally at home on a tractor in a cornfield or in a teen-age slasher movie as they were on the basketball court (not that there’s anything wrong with tractors, cornfields or teenage slasher movies, mind you).  It was like waking up one day and finding out there’s a Democrat in the White House and a healthcare reform bill has passed. Oh, wait…

So, is there anything to salvage from what has become a disaster of a tournament for me (and many others)? I think so. Here are a few bright spots that I’ve found:

  • Syracuse, my bandwagon team, has a better chance of winning it all now that Kansas is out of the way. As they have for most of the season, they’ve been kind of quiet as they make their way through the tournament without too much trouble. Their performance this year reminds me a bit of Kanas’s in 2008. Solid, quiet…National Champs? It could happen.
  • If Kentucky continues playing the way they’ve been playing so far, they should take care of annoying surprising Cornell and they could potentially decimate Duke in the Final Four. The idea of a bunch of freshmen dominating the Duke upperclassmen has a great deal of appeal. Of course, the picture of a bunch of militant jihadists from Afghanistan dominating Duke appeals to me, so we should take my Kentucky thoughts with a grain of salt.
  • The Maryland-Michigan State game was a great battle between two veteran coaches and some great talent, although Vasquez’s emotional breakdown after the loss was a bit over the top. Tom Izzo really is the best active NCAA Tournament Coach. He may not have teams that dominate in the regular season, but in the NCAA, it’s a different story. Even when Maryland had the go ahead basket with 6.6 seconds left, I knew that Michigan State would pull it out. I’m curious to see what Izzo will do against Northern Iowa without Lucas.
  • Although I was pulling for Georgia Tech, I have to admit that it was fun watching Evan Turner.
  • Baylor versus St. Mary’s. Wow. Two mid-majors I don’t hate. That’s like a record.
  • Gonzaga lost. While that’s not as good as Duke losing, it’s close.
  • UNC has now had a winning season and they’re still playing in the postseason. So what if it’s in the “Not in the Tournament” Tourney? The fact that I get to shout “Oh, God, not to Deon!” for at least one more game is a bright spot.

I also learned some lessons that I hope I can apply next year:

  • I should stick to my guns and not fill out a bracket if that’s how I feel. I think that maybe the reason I didn’t do so well this year is because I really didn’t want to do one.
  • I should listen to my brain more for my first and second round picks and save my gut feelings for picking the national champion. This year, my brain wanted me to pick Cornell over Temple and Washington over Marquette but my gut said to go with Temple and Marquette. However, my gut wanted me to pick Syracuse as the National Champion but my brain said to pick Kansas. I have to say, though, even if I had picked Syracuse, I would have had Kansas losing to them in the Final Four, so it’s really kind of moot.
  • I should have a “nightmare bracket” where Duke wins it all every year. I’ve had one of those since 2002 until this year and it’s worked out well for me. This year, I decided not to do that and I’m worried. Please, please, let someone take them out. I’m talking to you, Purdue, West Virginia, Kentucky and Syracuse.
  • I should wear my lucky Nikes more. I had them on for most of Saturday afternoon (for luck during UNC’s NIT game, which I watched while I worked out), but took them off before the Kansas game to wear a new pair of cute sandals I bought. Big mistake.

So, my new rules for next year are:  “1) Nightmare bracket with Duke winning it all; 2) Brain for first two rounds, gut for champion; and 3) No cute sandals.”

And now, during this break from the stress of a horrible bracket and the fear that even more of my favorites will falter, I get to prepare for my big trip to Charlotte to see Mexico take on Iceland in soccer/futbol on Wednesday. I wonder if there will be any other redheads in the stands pulling for Mexico….

Al’s Conference Tournament Observations and Questions

Al's new way of watching tournament action

For the better part of a month, I’ve been trying to pretend that the current men’s college basketball season is nothing but a nightmare and that when I wake up, it’ll be October 2009. (Unfortunately, that would mean that I haven’t gotten the substantial raise I was given in 2010–but hey, what’s 25% more salary when the Tar Heels are the epitome of major basketball suckage?) So, for much of February, I avoided watching most games, and instead developed an avid interest in world soccer.

This all changed when my daughter and I decided to join the cadillac of torture chambers fitness clubs–an amazing three-story megaplex of all things workout-related. This place has more HD flat-screen TVs on the wall than the biggest sports bar in Raleigh and there are even small TVs on some of their exercise equipment.

Because my workout program is designed to kill me before I get healthy, I have to spend a lot of time at the fitness club and there’s no way to avoid college basketball and workout at that place, because 80% of their approximately 8 million TVs have been tuned to men’s college basketball tournament play. Plus, I always feel obligated to watch as much of the ACC Tournament as possible based on the fact when I remember when winning that tournament was almost as big a deal as winning the National Championship. I also remember how, basically, all work used to stop in the state of North Carolina during that time and everyone knew, to the minute, what was happening, thanks to small TVs and radios smuggled into the office.

As a result, I now feel qualified (not that one really needs to feel qualified to write something here at EJSIC) make these observations based on what I’ve seen, as well as raise some rhetorical questions.

This is a men's college basketball score? Seriously?

First and foremost, the scores of most of these games seem abnormally low. Out of the 39 Division I games played yesterday, not a single team made it to 90 points and only three teams had scores above 80. And not a single one of those games had both teams with a score of 80 or above. One of the big games of the night–West Virginia and Notre Dame–had a final score of 53-51. Duke’s win over Virginia was 57 to 48. 57? 48? What is this, college football? These kinds of scores are expected in the Big 10, where for years, making baskets has not been as important as preventing them, but when teams in conferences known for high-scoring offenses, such as the ACC and Big East, have scores that would make Wisconsin and Illinois fans sigh with envy, I have to wonder what’s going on. Is this year’s crop of teams really that good defensively? Some might argue that this is so, but I really think that there’s been a lot of really sloppy play this week.

My next observation relates more to the ACC than it does the other conferences, although I’ve seen glimmers of it in the SEC, Big East and PAC

The layup...soon to be a lost art?

10, too. It really does appear that many of the ACC players I’ve watched are lacking some basic basketball skills such as inbounding, passing, layups and free throws. The Tar Heels in particular sucked at all four. However, watching both the Miami and Virginia Tech game and the Maryland and Georgia Tech games yesterday, I started cringing every time anyone went to the free-throw line, tried to inbound the ball, headed to the basket to attempt a layup or tried to get the ball to another player down the court. I’m left wondering what these guys actually do during practice. Three-point shots? Traveling without seeming to? Flopping? What’s happened to working on the basics? There’s no excuse for missing an easy layup or consistently screwing up a pass. There’s also no excuse for letting 3 minutes go by without either team scoring a basket, especially when there’s no evidence that either team has a good defense.

Thirdly, I’d like to know when all the tournament refs got together and agreed not to call 90% of the fouls committed by either team in any tournament. I’ve seen an enormous amount of hacking, attacking, bruising and pushing going on while the refs stood idly by, apparently incapable of using their whistles. I guess I should be happy that they don’t seem to be favoring one team over another in these games, but honestly, it’s getting to the point where you have to wonder if we should just get rid of the notion of fouling all together if so many flagrant fouls are going unpunished.

I don’t want to seem like a total curmudgeon (although I fear I’m becoming one as I age and the years I’ve followed basketball creep toward 35), so I want to be clear that I’ve seen some good things in these games.

For example, I’ve enjoyed very much the resurgence of the zone defense–especially the zone defense played well.  I’ve also seen some excellent individual play, such as that of Derrick Favors, Sherron Collins and John Wall.  Also, the number of upsets in these tournaments has had me on the edge of my comfortable fake leather-couch or treadmill (if I’m at the fitness club) and I love that. My hat’s especially off to San Diego State, Minnesota, Miami (FL) and the Woofies of N.C. State for shocking everyone. I also still can’t believe that Georgetown knocked off my new bandwagon team, Syracuse. I still think the Orange can win it all, though.

Of course, the upsets beg questions that I still can’t answer–have they happened because this is one of the weakest years for men’s college basketball? Or is it because so many teams know that their tickets are already punched for the NCAA tournament so they don’t care? Or is it because so many bubble teams want to get in so badly that they play out of their minds and upset a higher seed or favorite? What do y’all think? Let me know.

Colonial League Kings: The ODU Monarchs celebrate their ticket to the Big Dance.

On a final note, I’m going to make a little plug for a Cinderella team: The Old Dominion Monarchs. One of the nicest guys at my high school is their associate coach. They’ve had a really nice home winning streak going and they won their conference. It should be fun to watch them play.

Speaking of extremely annoying sports sycophants and drama queens: Fox Sports and Brett Favre

Attention sports broadcasters: This is Drew Brees, the other quarterback in last night's NFC Championship Game

Yesterday, I was able to watch both the AFC and NFC championships in their entirety, thanks to a great significant other who took care of all food preparation after 3:00 yesterday and made sure that all our errands were run before the opening kickoff of the Colts – Jets game.  Because one game basically followed the other and there was nothing to interrupt my viewing, I witnessed firsthand the difference between pretty solid sports analysis and grace under pressure–CBS Sports and the quarterbacking of Peyton Manning, Mark Sanchez and Drew Brees–and fawning parasitic babbling and and manipulative melodrama–the pre-game predictions, halftime analysis and color commentary of Fox Sports and the quarterbacking of Brett Favre.

Until yesterday, I thought Brett Favre’s neediness and attention-mongering were confined to contract negotiations but that he left all that behind when he was on the field. And I thought that the High Priests of the Brett Favre Holy Shrine were only on ESPN. As I am about so many things, I was completely wrong.

I really hadn’t watched the Vikings much this season (or Jets or the Green Bay Packers in the past), and I’ve never really paid close attention to Favre as a player other than to note in passing to my brother about 5 or 6 years ago that it looked like he was doing good things for Green Bay. In fact, my mind shuts down when I hear or see his name, and I never read any articles about him. So, yesterday was the first time I got to see him in all his diva-like glory and I was disgusted. He and his team made key mistakes and he himself threw two interceptions, but thanks to his uncanny ability to manipulate the press, he managed to prevent criticism of his play last night.

After the first interception, his behavior turned the corner from mildly annoying to unbearably horrible when he started rolling around the field in agony, pointing at his knee. People from the Vikings organization immediately rushed out to the field and helped Favre while he limped to the sideline as if someone had shot him in the knee, somehow managing to portray both extreme agony and stiff-upper-lip bravery at the same time.

The game clock remained frozen while several sports medicine types fussed over him like grandmothers as he had his ankle (yes, that’s his ankle, not his knee) taped and re-taped. Finally, it was decided that he would live and play resumed. Interestingly, Mr. “Will I Ever Walk Again?” somehow managed to get back on the field when Vikings regained possession of the ball and played the rest of the game.

Honestly, it was more sickening than a Greg Paulus flop or a “I just kicked the goalie in his privates and now I’m going to pretend he injured me for life so I don’t get a penalty” performance from any number of soccer/futbol players from around the world. It was also extremely manipulative because natural concern for someone who appeared to be seriously injured was milked to hide the fact that the Best Quarterback in America had thrown an interception.

The other quarterbacks that played yesterday were also under pressure. For example, Peyton Manning’s team was down to the Jets going into the second half. Did Manning have a bunch of hissy fits and try to be the “star” by throwing passes wildly? Nope. He had taken in the Jets’s defensive moves and worked with the coaches during half time to make adjustments that would throw the Jets off. As Sanchez watched the game slip away, did he writhe in melodramatic fashion near the line os crimmage? No. He kept trying to work with his team to win. The Vikings defense wasn’t exactly kind to Drew Brees, but he doggedly ground out plays to keep them in the game.

What made it 10 times worse for me as a viewer is how Fox Sports covered Favre in all his vainglory. For example, instead of focusing on Vilma, the guy

Too bad I didn't think to turn the sound down on these guys

who intercepted Favre the first time, and hastily putting up his stats and any information about earlier interceptions in the season, Fox trained all its cameras on Favre’s antics on the sidelines. They even dragged out a camera shot of Favre’s wife’s reaction when he was hit, which included putting her hand over her mouth in concern (as if no other wife in the history of football suffered when her husband was hurt).

If this had been Fox’s only transgression, I would have forgiven them for playing into the hands of a master manipulator. However, this was only part of what I can only describe as obsessive Favre coverage. They counted every time he was hit (as if no one ever tackled a quarterback before) and constantly reminded everyone of the “pounding” he was taking throughout the game.

The pre-game show featured Fox “analysts” (I can’t remember which ones offhand, sorry) insisting that the Vikings would win because they were the best team in the NFL and they repeated that again during the half time show. (I find it fascinating that the best team in the NFL didn’t have the best record.) Also during half time, all kinds of criticisms of Payton’s coaching of the Saints were offered up and it was at this time that they made a huge deal out of the hits on Favre and insinuated that New Orleans wouldn’t be able to keep him down and they were unlikely to win.

After suffering through this commentary and endless, sycophantic Favre coverage, I had the brilliant idea to turn the sound down on the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter and watched it with a lot less rancor, especially once my significant other suggested that I stop counting the camera shots of Favre both on and off the field. When the Saints won in overtime, I even managed to forget my ire in my happiness for one of the biggest underdogs in NFL history.  However, that joy was shortlived.

This morning I realized that the sick, symbiotic relationship that I thought existed only between Favre and ESPN/Fox probably extends to all sports media, because even NPR’s coverage of the game was devoted to what Favre thought about the game (“It was more physical than people realized, wah, wah”) and whether or not he would play next year.

Look out for the bus, Adrian!!!!!

Then, I went online and saw that espn.com is throwing Peterson under the bus for the loss because of his fumbles, when they’re not blaming the Vikings for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory or using their thesauruses to come up with new ways to describe the ills Brett imagines he suffered at the hands of the Saints defense. And I can’t help but wonder, did these people even watch the game? Because, you see, there was another team that played in the game. That team is called the Saints and they had an offense that scored more points than the Vikings and a defense that helped force the turnovers, including two that were made by someone other than Peterson, one of which probably cost them the game. And that team is actually the team that’s in the Super Bowl. I don’t want to hear endless speculation about Favre’s future and whining about how the Vikings should be in the Super Bowl. I want to enjoy the moment for both the Saints and the Colts. And somehow I don’t think I’m alone.

With no time to waste, Al makes her predictions for today

The first two Top 25 men’s college basketball games get underway in 42 minutes, so I need to get cracking if I’m going to get these out in time.

Texas A&M at No. 1 Texas. Cracks are starting to show in the game of the once seemingly invincible Longhorns. Shocking I know given Texas’s stellar late season play throughout history.  So, this will probably be a dogfight like the Iowa State game but I think Texas will prevail. Their first loss will probably be next week.

Yep, Texas, your cracks are starting to show

No. 2 Kentucky at Auburn: With play in one of now in full swing, one has to wonder when Kentucky will lose. I think the day is coming, but I’m pretty sure it’s not today.

Texas Tech at No. 3 Kansas. Call me crazy, but I think this is going to be a great game and it might even go down to the wire. I’m giving Kansas this win solely based on home court advantage.

No. 5 Syracuse at No. 9 West Virginia. My opinion of how good Syracuse is might be a little off because it was based on their stomping of UNC earlier in the season, but now that Clemson and College of Charleston have proven that just about any one can do that to the Heels, I’m not sure it’s a reliable measure of how good a team is. However, I do think that WVU is not as good as Syracuse, so I’ve got Syracuse in this one and I’m sticking to it.

No. 6 Purdue at Northwestern. I’m starting to hate Purdue because they, like many Big 10 teams, never do what I predict. So, I’m picking them in this game but fully expect to be laughed at by everyone when Northwestern pulls the upset.

Illinois at No. 8 Michigan State. I’m giving this one to MSU because, unlike most basketball teams this season (especially the Tar Heels), they seem to be getting better with each game.

No. 23 Mississippi at No. 10 Tennessee. LOL at everyone who thinks that Tennessee is a Top 10 team just because they caught Kansas napping. I’m going with Mississippi for the “upset.”

No. 12 Kansas State at Colorado. I’m picking Kansas State mainly because I think that they might lose if I pick them and also because I think Colorado might have worn themselves out upsetting BYU.

No. 18 Georgia Tech at No. 13 North Carolina. This pick is a huge risk because even though it appears that Tyler Zeller is a big doofus when he’s on the court, now that he’s off it due to injury, the entire team has become a big collection of doofuses. I don’t get that. I’m hoping we can win this one at home though and then I can taunt this Duke fan I know.

No. 14 Gonzaga at San Diego. Just once I’d like Gonzaga to do what I predict them to. It’s possible that it could happen today, but I’m already expecting a huge San Diego upset because I picked Gonzaga. I really wish they’d lose 20 games each season for the next 27 seasons so that I’d never have to deal with them again.

No. 16 Wisconsin at Ohio State. I can’t believe these two are playing again

More exciting than the Wisconsin Ohio State game Al watched recently

so soon. This game could go either way because Ohio State’s playing at home and also because they seem to be getting their act together. Just for laughs, I’m going to pick tOSU for the upset. I will not watch this game though because the last time I sat down to watch a Wisconsin vs. Ohio State game, I decided that putting a 20-quart stock pot on a hot plate and watching it until it boiled was much more exciting. Not to mention that all the clanging of bricks that banged off the rims activated my long dormant tinnitus.

Colorado State at No. 17 BYU. This is the game where we find out if BYU is for real or just another mid-major that’s overhyped (like most of them). Colorado State’s not that bad of a team, but I think BYU is likely to win this.

No. 19 Clemson at North Carolina State. Ordinarily, after a team pulls an upset, they come out flat the next game because they gave it all to win. However, Clemson hardly put any effort into their sound defeat of the Heels, so I think they can take on the Wolfpack. Like Texas, it’s not quite time for the Tigers to implode. That’ll come a little later in this month.

Louisville at No. 20 Pittsburgh. This is a tough one to call because I don’t think Pittsburgh is all that great. But they’re playing at home, so I’m giving this one to them.

Massachusetts at No. 21 Temple. One can only hope that Temple can pull this off, seeing as Massachusetts has lost 8 games.

Youngstown State vs. No. 22 Butler. I know it seems like I hate mid-majors but it’s actually only a select few. Butler’s one of them, but I think they can take Youngstown State. It’s iffy, though.

Oklahoma State at No. 24 Baylor. I like the Bears, but I think they’ll stumble in this one.

Virginia Tech at No. 25 Florida State. Yay, another great ACC matchup that’s impossible to predict. Please note the sarcasm. I’m going with FSU only because they’re playing in Tallahassee, not that it seems to matter.