"Once abolish God and the government becomes the God." -G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, March 20, 2011

March Maddening

Since I just finished portraying him in a short musical, allow me to quote the great philosopher Socrates: "I only know that I know nothing." Or as I often write here, it's amazing how often we don't know what we think we know. This applies to libelous liberals more than conservatives, but nevertheless, no words could do a better job of reflecting how I feel after watching my NCAA bracket evaporate this year in the first two rounds. And that means I'm getting my butt kicked by President Obama, which only adds insult to injury.

Given all the crazy, questionable, never-in-my-lifetime calls the refs have been making lately, I'm beginning to think the NCAA tournament was rigged this year to make sure the president's picks advance. The end of the Texas-Arizona game was mind-numbing. Even Rick Pitino said it felt like an awfully quick 5 second count, and one that basically handed the game to Arizona (which, by the way, was one of the president's upsets). Then there was the no-call at the other end of the court as Gary Johnson got mauled grabbing the rebound. I don't even need to go into the Pitt-Butler game. Has a foul ever been called when rebounding a free throw with less than one second left, let alone 90 feet away from the opposing team's basket? Something stinks and it smells worse than pro-union protesters camped out in state capitols.

After bragging about my record in recent office pools (and it was stellar), my can't-miss tips have missed badly this year (the ones I always rely on) and my expertise has apparently expired as my bracket has been blown to smithereens. Two of my Final Four teams have already been eliminated, and it looks like I will only get 10 of my Sweet 16 teams correct. VCU? Never saw it coming. Utah State as an upset? Complete bust. About the only thing I can brag about getting right is 12 seed sleeper Richmond, and hopefully Ohio State as the eventual national champ.

Not that I even like the Buckeyes or plan on rooting for them now that my bracket is shot. San Diego State is my favorite team due to Steve Fisher's back story. Besides, how can you not root for a team called the Aztecs? It sounds like a Mexican restaurant. Aztecs all the way, baby!

It's just basketball. And I guess that's the point. Have a little fun, don't take it too seriously, and enjoy the distraction from real world problems. It would be nice if I thought that's how the president felt about it, too, but I have an inclination he put way more effort into his bracket than taking any type of leadership role on Libya or Japan. Or the crippling national debt. Or the economy. Or skyrocketing gas prices. 

Sure. It's March Madness, but America's march to obscurity is even more maddening.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

5 Tips to Win Your NCAA Bracket

Why is March Madness my favorite time of year? It's the week a giant puzzle called a bracket is thrust in front of almost every casual sports fan in America. A student at heart, I have put in a lot of long hours studying trends and statistics, hanging on to old brackets to see what I got wrong, and refining a system that uses 80% numbers and 20% intuition to pick winners and losers. It is with this history of modest success that I present these 5 simple tips to finish at the top of your office pool. Good luck!

RULE 1: Defense Wins Championships - It sounds like a cliche, but no maxim is truer in March. Teams face new types of adversity in the tourney including opponents they're not used to playing in arenas (and football stadiums) far from home. Shooting droughts, jitters, and lower scoring games are not uncommon. As a result, those teams who have relied on their defense throughout the year rather than shooting have a distinct advantage. In fact, only one team in the past eight years has played in the championship game with a defensive efficiency ranked lower than 15 and that was North Carolina. They ranked 16 (and number 1 in offensive efficiency).

This year three number 1 seeds have kenpom defensive efficiency rankings in the top ten - Kansas, Duke, and Ohio State. Two number 2 seeds have defenses ranked in the top 10 - San Diego State and North Carolina. That means defensively challenged Notre Dame and Florida are good candidates to be upset early.

RULE 2: Free Throws Count (especially in the later rounds) - Just ask Memphis. They blew a huge lead to Kansas three years ago in the NCAA Finals because they couldn't sink several crucial free throws down the stretch. When two teams have similar offense and defense efficiency numbers, free throws are likely to be the difference. Pick against teams with a glaring weakness at the charity stripe. This year, the worst highly ranked teams for FT% include Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Kansas State, and Syracuse.

RULE 3: Pay Attention to Home Court Advantage - It's not going to matter as much when there is a huge disparity in ranking and/or seeding, but in a close matchup it can be the difference maker. It's no coincidence that Michigan State won their title playing the Final Four in Detroit. Butler was given a boost (and almost stole the entire tourney) by playing a few miles from home in Indianapolis last year. Likewise, Texas made it to the Elite Eight twice by playing their regionals in Texas. This year the four regionals will be played in San Antonio, Anaheim, Newark, and New Orleans. Pay attention to who plays closest to home.

RULE 4: Don't Pick Too Many Upsets - You will be tempted to try and pick several Cinderellas, usually seeded 11, 12, or 13. It's human nature. Taking the chalk is boring. Any idiot can look at the seedings and put four number one seeds in the Final Four. Even the president. But you know what, taking the chalk ensures you more favorable odds to earn points, especially in the early rounds. Pick the wrong upset and you end up losing the easy points that everyone else is getting from a highly seeded team that keeps advancing. It's statistically stupid to eliminate any number 1 seed before the Elite Eight and at least 13 of your Sweet 16 teams should be seeded 5 or better. I usually throw one 11 or 12 seed in using kenpom to determine the most underrated team in the tourney, but it has its risks.

This year's most underrated/underseeded team in my opinion is #12 Utah State (30-3). They get a favorable matchup in the first round against a very inconsistent and overseeded #5 Kansas State (22-10) which is actually ranked lower in the coach's poll than Utah State. They would then would face a Wisconsin team with a porous defense. By the way, Utah State's defensive efficiency ranks number 7 according to kenpom. This team has senior leadership and reminds me of the George Mason team that made a surprise run to the Final Four a few years ago.

RULE 5: Fill out your bracket from the inside-out - Pick the championship first, then the Final Four, Elite Eight, Sweet 16, etc. That way you start with the strongest teams and slowly eliminate the weak. Otherwise, if you go matchup by matchup from the round of 32 to the round of 16 to the round of 8, you might be tempted to put a 6 seed or worse in the Final Four. There's no point in losing potential points no one else is losing by taking an unnecessary risk unless you are playing for pure fun and feel the need to take your alma mater all the way.


Sure, anomalies happen but statistics say the two teams who meet in the championship will be from this elite group (the only teams with a top 15 defensive ranking and top 20 for offensive efficiency):

1. Duke
2. Ohio State
3. Kansas
4. Purdue
5. Texas
6. San Diego St.

Oddly enough, Duke, Texas, and San Diego St. are seeded 1, 2, and 4 respectively in the same region (with UConn at number 3) making the West Regional the toughest of the tournament. Of these, Duke measures up best statistically. Meanwhile, none of these elite teams are in the Southeast, making it the easiest region.

7. Pittsburgh
8. Connecticut
9. Kentucky

The above group makes up teams with offensive and defensive rankings in the top 20. They have decent odds of making the Final Four, but slim odds to win it all.

Finally, we have teams with top 15 defenses or top 15 offenses who also have defense/offense efficiency rankings in the top 40. They have a good chance of advancing to the Elite Eight, but advancing further will take some luck:

10. North Carolina
11. BYU
12. Louisville

My gut tells me Florida is the most overrated team and won't survive long. The winner of the UCLA/Michigan State game could give Florida fits and even if they advance to the Sweet 16, St. Johns or BYU could also upset the Gators.

Sleepers: Utah State, Richmond, Clemson, St. Johns, Gonzaga, Washington

My Final Four: Duke, Purdue, Pitt, Ohio State (champ)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Japan, Daylight Savings, and Barack's Bracket

I'm exhausted.

SXSW interactive and film are wrapping up, SXSW music is just starting, I'm performing in a short play I wrote involving a karaoke contests between Jesus and Socrates, and on top of all that we have to deal with daylight savings. I may welcome spring, but I'll never welcome springing forward.

Call me uber-libertarian, but I don't believe I should have to change my entire routine and circadian rhythm at the arbitrary whim of the government. It's one thing to adjust the calendar to compensate for the math like we do with leap year, but it's quite another when the change is a cosmetic one that will only be changed back in a matter of months. Kudos to Arizona for having the sense to avoid this bizarre ceremony.

And so I look at my blog and recognize a huge absence, mainly me for the past week, one almost fitting of the current leader of the free world. I have barely mentioned Libya or Japan - just like President Obama. In fact, it occurred to me this week that Obama would have made a great veep. He avoids tough decisions, hides during times of leadership, and shows up graciously for all the political fundraisers and ceremonial events like filling out one's NCAA bracket. You might say he is focused on his job approval rating like a laser.

Someone should tell the president you usually wait until after the midterm election of your second term to become a lame duck. For whatever reason, Obama has voluntarily chosen to become one when the world actually needs American leadership. You can only imagine what a weaker United States would mean should any of these calamities become a full-blown international crisis.

As for the situation in Japan, all I can offer right now is prudence and prayer. I have heard the radiation leak resulting from the tsunami described as everything from greatly exaggerated to apocalyptic. I certainly don't believe it's apocalyptic, and I know the drive-by media has an agenda when it comes to nuclear energy, but I'd rather gather more information before making an overall assessment. One thing is certain: older nuclear facilities are less safe than newer facilities with modern technology and the more we put off building new modern plants in safe, stable locals, the longer old plants are forced to stay online to meet our robust demand for energy (which is only increasing and can't be met w/ alternative sources). Also keep in mind what kind of strain plug-in hybrid cars are going to put on electric grids in the coming years and you have a recipe for disaster.

In the meantime, enjoy SXSW and the NCAA tournament. If you want a kick out of ridiculing Obama's basketball picks, go here and follow @baracksbracket on twitter. As for my picks, I have almost always finished in the top five of my office pool and have plenty of wins to boot, so the least I can do is fill you in on some tournament tips that usually give me an edge. Look for that post first thing in the morning so you can adjust your bracket before the 11 am deadline.

I'm off to rehearsal (and hoping to catch up on my sleep).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Kids Are Alright

Good news from America's public schools. They've heard enough from President Obama, or at least that's what one could ascertain from their underwhelming participation in this year's "Race to the Top Commencement Challenge". After students from more than a thousand schools applied to have the president speak at their commencement ceremony last year, a contest which was won by Kalamazoo Central High, the Obama administration was expecting record participation this time around. However, to date they have only received 68 applications, of which only 14 came in by the original February 25 deadline. If that's not a "let me be clear" message to the president from America's youth, I don't know what is. That's the problem with cults of personality and fickle teenage audiences. What was cool to your older sibling, usually ain't cool to you. Even Justin Bieber has a shelf life. Better go back to the drawing board on that indoctrination.

Exit Question: Could Barack Obama even win a student council race today?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Dispelling More Koch Brothers Hysteria

We already spent time a couple of days ago discrediting the argument that the Koch brothers, private businessmen who have spent money donating to conservative and libertarian causes, would benefit from the termination of collective bargaining agreements for public sector unions. Even progressive friends of mine have admitted the Koch brothers have nothing to gain from this personally. The attacks on the Koch brothers are a distraction, an effort to put the target of public outrage anywhere but where it squarely belongs in Wisconsin - on the money funneled from taxpayers to unions.

The latest charge against the Koch brothers involvement in Wisconsin politics is even more mysterious and conspiratorial, but just as easy to disprove. This charge revolves around a provision in the proposed legislation allowing the governor to sell Wisconsin power plants without going through a competitive bidding process first, supposedly allowing Koch Industries to purchase them on the cheap.

Is there evidence that Koch Industries is interested in purchasing these plants or that they will be sold at discount rates? Of course not. Just like the Left attempted to connect Jared Lee Loughner and the shooting of Gabby Giffords to Sarah Palin's map, this is once again an imaginary line between two dots only liberals can see.

But let's indulge them and use our critical thinking skills to dissect this conspiracy for a second. Are we really supposed to believe that out of the two million dollars the Koch brothers spent contributing to candidates nationwide during the 2010 election, their priority was getting some cheap power plants in Wisconsin for a mere donation of $43,000 to Scott Walker? As John Hinderaker points out, that's one-tenth of 1% of what was spent on Wisconsin's gubernatorial campaign. In Democratic circles, that's not even enough to get Rahm Emanuel to take a phone call.

Speaking of phone calls, union goons and leftist supporters point to a prank phone call Scott Walker took from a progressive blogger posing as a Koch brother as proof of the cozy relationship with the governor. I argue it's just the opposite. If you have a cozy relationship with someone, you don't stay on the phone for twenty minutes with an imposter because you would know the person's voice and speaking style. In fact, Scott Walker has never met the Koch brothers, which is not something that can be said of President Obama and billionaire financier George Soros. No conservative blogger could pull off the same stunt by calling the White House and posing as Soros or AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, because the White House really does have a cozy relationship there.

Finally, if we assume the Left's false accusation that this is a corporate handout, why put it in such a controversial bill that is going to get so much media attention? Why not sneak it into something the Legislature's going to pass with flying colors and won't send Democratic lawmakers fleeing the capitol building? The two issues are unrelated.

The hypocrisy of the Left hyperventilating over an imagined quid pro quo for a few thousand dollars when there is so much evidence of billion dollar paybacks to campaign contributors by Barack Obama in the stimulus, auto bailouts, and health care legislation is revealing. Democrats are projecting.

This is more faux outrage by the very people who call for more civility while acting less civil, who promise more transparency while making government less transparent,  and who believe they have every right to your personal wealth and property, just don't you dare touch theirs. There's still no honor among thieves.