When something statistically improbable keeps happening to someone, does it cease becoming statistically improbable? Do we have to throw our previous conceptions of probability out the window and, at least for this one blessed, cursed soul, accept reality on separate terms?
Take Phil Connors in Groundhog Day. As far as we know, no human in history has ever repeated the same day even once, since that would involve interacting with the concept of time in a way that this existence does not allow. Even in the universe of the film, we can safely assume that Phil Connors is the only one to experience this phenomenon, since no allusion is made to similar events in the past (or future?) and nobody else in Punxsutawney seems to be enduring the existential panic we see in Connors as the cycle breaks him down. BUT — and here's my point, I think — Connors experiences this bizarre and unnatural 24-hour time jump so many times in succession (12,395 times, according to film scientists) that we come to expect this abomination of logic to occur. Over and over and over again. It's the new truth. For Phil Connors, we forget how the real world works. The eventual return to normalcy is the true aberration.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
Kobe Bryant became the youngest NBA player to reach 30,000 points in the second quarter of the Lakers' 103-87 win over the New Orleans Hornicans. "Say the word youngest again," Bryant said to reporters, as he soaked his feet in hot water and epsom salts. "Just keep saying it while I close my eyes. Don't be weirded out if I moan."
I spent about five hours on the highway this weekend, and before we get to the college basketball–related epiphanies for this week, I have three driving-related epiphanies:
1. In my mind, the worst breach of highway etiquette is when a driver in the left lane travels at the exact same (slow) speed as the driver in the right lane, clogging the highway and making it impossible for anyone to pass. It's selfish, stupid, and beyond infuriating. I used to deal with this problem by stewing in anger and shouting a few obscenities inside the safety of my car. Not effective. Eventually, I began tailgating in an effort to show that I hated the driver and would like to pass. More effective, but sometimes they'd become obstinate and refuse to move. But now, my evolution is complete, because I've reached a point in life where I just drive up, wait a few seconds to make sure I'm not being an impatient douche, and then hit the horn at reasonable intervals until they move. And the crazy part? It works, and I'm a lot less angry. I just sail by while the offender glowers at me from the slowpoke lane where he belongs. I'm pretty sure this new Zen-like approach contains the seeds of a great motivational book.
2. Things can get really, really odd when you're alone in a car. I once had a roommate in New York who told me he was looking forward to visiting his family in Kansas City for a holiday so he could "get in the car and just get weird." I knew exactly what he meant. And I'm not talking weird in any kind of perverse way. I'm talking, like, singing freestyle blues songs about highway signs. I'm talking about giving fake interviews in foreign accents. I'm talking about carrying on one-sided conversations with other drivers. Just letting the brain roam where it will, which is always some place bizarre. If there was a TV show that was just footage of people who thought they were alone in a car, it would be a smash hit. And if aliens ever considered invading, but that show was the only thing they watched ahead of time, they'd immediately cancel their plans, since we are clearly a planet of psychopaths.
3. If someone is exhibiting "dickish" behavior on the road, there is a 95 percent chance that he will be driving a pickup truck. Pickup trucks are the new 18-wheelers, and 18-wheelers are the new sports cars. I know a lot of good people who own pickup trucks, including my father, so please don't think I'm stereotyping. This is just a scientific conclusion culled from years of observation; among the thriving group of respectable pickup truckers, there is a group of renegade road terrorists. And if you bike? God help you, because then it goes up to 100 percent. Pickup truck people hate bikers and love to buzz them or scream out the window as they pass. Someday, I'm going to bike past a pickup trucker stopped for speeding, and I'm going to get my revenge by mocking them on the fly. And on that day, the driver will probably be my father. Sorry, Dad.
On to the hoops! Here's what we learned from the past week:
This is it, gang. This is the last Semi-Ignorant Guide of the year. Thank you for joining me on this ride as I spouted half-truths and outright lies, took credit for lucky upset predictions, and generally learned nothing of value. This, in the end, is what being a sports fan is all about. Let's get right to the top 10 games (all times EST).
10. No. 16 UCLA at no. 8 Stanford (Friday, 8 p.m.)
I've told you before about my college football pool, in which 18 of us pick the 10 most prominent games each week against the spread. So far the leader has 68 points through 13 weeks, for an average just barely above .500. All but two people are at .500 or below. Some of us know football pretty well, others are clueless, but it doesn't matter. It's impossible to pick games against the spread. But over the course of the season, I've come to realize that Las Vegas knows everything. Every once in a while, there's a point spread that seems absolutely ridiculous. Last week, when Louisville (undefeated in the Big East) was an underdog against Pittsburgh (1-4 in the Big East, 4-6 overall), everyone in the pool thought it was a gimme. The result? Pittsburgh won, 27-6. Somehow, Vegas knows all.
Yesterday we looked at the Third Team and the All-Stoppers squad, and now it's time for the best of the best. Tomorrow is opening day in college hoops, and I'll be previewing the top 10 games. For now, here are my 10 top players for 2012-13. All stats come from ESPN and Ken Pomeroy.
A quick one this week, amigos, with a rundown of the top 10 games and Your Perfect Saturday:
10. Kent State at no. 15 Rutgers
Big Ten fans will be unhappy to see that I chose this one over Michigan-Nebraska, if only because the Big East is starting to look like a pretty interesting race, and Kent State, at 6-1, is on a crash course with Ohio for a MAC East championship game on November 23. It feels like there might be upset potential here, but Kent State's blowout loss to Kentucky earlier in the season should give you pause.
If you watch college football on TV, you find yourself watching commercials for Aflac, Home Depot, and colleges. Ads for the University of Texas say, “What starts here changes the world.” Ads for Texas Tech say, “From here, it’s possible.” The former is a boast, while the latter is more of a timid suggestion. I can’t think of a better way to explain the difference between Texas and Texas Tech.
Before we dive into the aesthetics of college ads, which are called “institutionals,” we should note that these things are weird for a couple reasons. First, what’s the point? They’re plopped in the middle of a game — as mandated by the conference TV deal — to prove that there’s a university attached to the football program. “It’s coeds, cellos, and sports,” an ad executive told the Wall Street Journal’s Darren Everson. Essentially, the school is reminding us, “We put the ‘student’ in student-athlete,” and it makes that label look like even more of a crock.
The other weird thing is that the football game is often a better ad for a college than the actual ad. Alabama’s CBS telecasts have slick graphics, “honey shots” of the cheerleaders, and Verne Lundquist. Alabama’s TV ad has a bunch of robotic, smiling students and looks like it was cut together in the basement of the communications building. Which one makes you want to go to Tuscaloosa?
I’ve gone through the latest BCS standings and reviewed each school’s attempt to market itself. I’ve mixed past ads with present ads, because college commercials don’t seem to have aesthetic “periods.” I’ve also skipped schools like Kansas State, which have boring ads. (You could argue this is a perfect reflection of the Kansas State football team, which is seemingly boring but beats Oklahoma on the road.) Here are the best commercials from the Top 25 (click the team name to view the ad):
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
Matt Kenseth managed to avoid a 25-car pileup on his way to earning a Sprint Cup victory at Talladega Superspeedway. Kyle Busch, car No. 25 in the pileup, later admitted that he drove in mostly because he "wanted to see what it was like." The only non-car in the pileup, Rex Ryan, said he heard there were free pastries.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
The Kansas City Chiefs overcame an 18-point deficit to stun the Saints 27-24 on Ryan Succop's 31-yard overtime field goal. "You did such a great job calling plays!" said Succop to Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel after the game. "How did you learn so much about football? It's really neat just to be around you and watch how you school the other coaches. Hey, do you and your wife want to come over for dinner sometime this week? Maybe Tuesday or Wednesday? Thursday or Friday work, too, or Monday. Mrs. Succop is cooking pot roast. Or whatever you want. She can always change the menu."
While agonizing over the possibility of a second straight Alabama-LSU title game, I think I came up with the worst thing about their horrible dominance: as a neutral college football fan, you have to pick a favorite.
Well, let me qualify that. A person like me, who is incapable of watching a sporting event of any kind (including youth Frisbee) without vilifying one team and venerating the other, needs to pick a favorite. Believe me, that is a hateful, torturous task in this world of Tigers and Tide. Anyone with a semblance of love for the amateur unpredictability of college football probably despises these two programs. They are the evil empire, magnified by a power of two. While the rest of us stand by and watch, helpless, Les Miles and Nick Saban have created near-professional super-teams in a non-professional sport, slowly sucking the competitive life out of the game.
Manassas Junction, Virginia, 1861 — It's July 21, and the Civil War is about to begin for real. Union soldiers march south from Washington, D.C., to meet the Confederates, and the feeling throughout the north is that the rebels will hightail it back south after they get massacred on day one. The high muckety-mucks from D.C. — congressmen, business owners, and various other rich people — come down to picnic and watch the rout. Instead, after a long day of fighting, Stonewall Jackson and the Confederates send their enemies into a headlong retreat for Washington. As they flee north, the soldiers find the roads blocked by the panicked civilians who had come to watch the end of the pesky rebellion. And that's how the Battle of Bull Run ended.
I was a Civil War nerd as a kid, so it probably figures that while watching the Pac-12 shock the world last Saturday, I thought of Bull Run. It was the conference's best day in years, and it completely transformed their image around the country. The three ranked teams did their job, and that was expected — USC beat Syracuse, Oregon beat Fresno State, Stanford beat Duke. But the little guys did their part, too. Arizona dominated no. 18 Oklahoma State at home, Oregon State stunned no. 13 Wisconsin, UCLA outgunned no. 16. Nebraska in one of the best games of the weekend, and Arizona State destroyed Illinois. (Only Washington disappointed in the high-profile games, failing to make a dent against the Baton Rouge Tigers of the NFL's Second Division.)
There are now five Pac-12 teams in the AP top 25, and two more within sniffing distance. It's a revolution! The games were mostly at home, sure, but even under those circumstances the odds were long. Yet the mighty programs of the Big 10 and Big 12 left with their tails between their legs, fans in tow, realizing they'd underestimated the enemy. Week 2 was the Pac-12's Bull Run, and now everyone has to take them seriously.
So I'm calling it: This is the year of the Pac-12. Here are three more semi-ignorant reasons to love the rejuvenated conference.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Mariners icon Ichiro Suzuki was traded to the Yankees hours before the two teams played in Seattle, a game the Yankees won 4-1 as Ichiro went 1-4 with a stolen base. I'm not really supposed to editorialize in this space, but I think it's fair to say that the trade is the worst thing to happen to Seattle sports fans since Starbucks hero Howard Schultz was forced to courageously move the Supersonics to Oklahoma after it became clear that the city didn't love them enough.
You remember this, right? BECAUSE MIKE KRZYZEWSKI SURE DOES. Boom, roasted. This is Florida State's Michael Snaer, hitting the buzzer-beater in Cameron to lift the Seminoles to a 76-73 win over the Blue Devils in January.
Shane Ryan wrote about Snaer during the ACC tournament, where he was named MVP.
It was a drab Thursday and Friday at the ACC tournament, but the drama of the weekend atoned in a big way. First, you had Carolina riding a wave of favorable calls to a close win over NC State, then a brutal FSU win against a game but under-talented Duke team, and finally the explosive championship, with the Noles holding off Carolina (sans John Henson) for a three-point win. The weekend games were good enough to make this the best Power 6 conference tournament of 2012.
But what stuck out to me, more than the results and more than the close finishes, was the excellent pressure play of three players — Austin Rivers, Kendall Marshall, and Michael Snaer.
There are two options here. One: I can talk about them and leave it at that. Two: I can start you off with two great referee stories from Saturday. Pick your poison.
Something disappointing and inevitable occurred at the conclusion of Saturday's Mid-American Conference title game. Akron trailed Ohio 64-61 with 6.2 seconds on the clock, 94 feet from the basket. Recognizing the situation, Ohio coach John Groce made what proved to be the right decision: The Bobcats intentionally fouled a Zip with 3.1 seconds remaining, forcing Alex Abreu to make the front end and then miss the second on purpose (which, to his chagrin, bounced in anyway). Ohio won by a point and advanced to the NCAA tournament, which it deserved. But this is a bad way for a basketball game to end. The very idea of a team with the lead intentionally fouling sometimes makes “winning sense,” but it’s vaguely unsporting and antithetical to how the game is played 99.9 percent of the time. It abuses a technicality.