Archive for the ‘Who The Hell Are…?’ Category

mind-the-gap.jpgThis post is a response to a challenge issued by the author of Moderately Cerebral Bias, who fulfills his blog’s title by thinking a little more deeply about how & why we do this thing called blogging. MC identified several gaps in the mainstream media/big-boy bloggers paradigm that he thinks smaller bloggers can exploit. It’s a way to keep our content fresh and relevant, which is crucial when you realize that there are millions of blogs out there, and many of them are about sports.

Read his first post on the subject, regarding the use of internet technology in blogging.

I, for one, know that there are many bigger blogs than mine, many more popular, and many funnier writers than I. If I try to cover the same stories they cover, I get squashed. Or worse yet, ignored. As a result, I like to exploit the gap in what MC calls “The Way Up” stories. This means that we have a chance to write about the hot story before anyone else knows it’s hot, sometimes we even break news that the bigger outlets would have never found, because they’re too busy looking at the big picture to see what lies beneath.

This is essentially a natural hierarchy. I don’t blame the big boys for writing about big subjects. But those of us who struggle to find our niche and audience can occasionally write about the little guy, and end up learning a lot and sharing that knowledge with people who didn’t even know they cared until they read it. If you’re any kind of writer, you can make a small story interesting.

I have no doubt that this happens in other areas of the blogosphere, but we’re primarily sports bloggers, so that’s what I’m going to look at. Listed below are some of my favorite blogs that have found their niche, writing about something they love, and in many cases, have been able to turn that love into national notoriety:

quinnbobcatlogo.jpgSmall College Basketball: Believe it or not, there was a time when nobody gave a damn about the mid-majors. But hundreds of thousands of readers across this nation went to schools you’ve never heard of. Kyle Whelliston recognized that audience was not being served, so he created midmajority.com, which has evolved into an amazing database of stats, profiles, and feature articles about the non-power conferences. From humble beginnings, Mr. Whelliston has risen to be ESPN.com’s go-to writer about mid-major basketball. Pretty sweet.

In a similar vein, Michael Leitos turned his love of the Colonial Athletic Association into a wonderful blog that covers every aspect of the up-and-coming basketball power. He knows the coaches and players, and he’s traveled to every venue in the CAA. That insider knowledge paid off when George Mason made a miracle run to the Final Four just over a year ago. Mr. Leitos had been there every step of the way, and turned his notes into a fantastic book: Cinderella-Inside the Rise of Mid-Major College Basketball. Again, here’s a person who was just doing what he loved, and an opportunity fell in his lap. He was uniquely qualified to tell that story.

tmh.pngMinor League Baseball: Unless you live in North Carolina, you probably only have one or two minor league baseball teams within traveling distance. But with the rise of fantasy baseball, we all want to know “who’s next?” Matthew Whipps wanted to know, so he dug in and got the answers. First, with his blog The Diamond Cutter, where he regularly kept a list of top-ten prospects. His work got him noticed by other sites, and he became somewhat of an expert on developmental baseball. He was rewarded with a gig at MVN, writing the Minor Details column, wherein he can scout to his heart’s desire, and we can get the scoop on the up-and-comers.

Obviously, these are examples of blogs wholly devoted to niche readership. Not everyone wants to do that every day. But several bloggers work in, say, a post a week devoted to uncovering the hidden stories. Jack Cobra looked at Lehigh University athletics on 3manlift.com recently. Texas Gal and Lady Andrea are pushing college baseball over at Ladies…, as much for the hottness as for the level of play. MC Bias and Digital Headbutt spend a lot of time covering women’s college basketball and other sports that are seldom seen in the limelight.

In politics, Skeptical Brotha finds fantastic video of behind-the-scenes players like Barack Obama’s wife, who he likes more than the man himself.

And yes, I am going to blow my own horn. I write a half-serious, half-satire post every week during college basketball season called “Who the hell Are…”, and I’ve devoted some time to following rookie MLB players with “Smells Like Pujols”. The project I’m most excited about, however, is College Rule Notebook, where I invite readers to tell me all about their college – no matter how large or small – in their own words. Nobody knows a school like a student or alum, and we all like to brag on our famous classmates.

This is a dichotomy of sports, and storytelling in general. We love to read about the heroes and the larger than life. But we need some way to connect that enormity to our everyday lives. It’s a crucial part of the fantasy that allows us to live vicariously through a great player.

Instead of being the guy who has to go look it up, why not be the guy who wrote it in the first place?

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chamberlain_wilt.jpgI was recently able to make my debut on Deadspin.com’s front page by volunteering to write team capsules for the lowest seeds coming into the tournament. I tackled Crusaders, Rattlers, Islanders, and Monarchs. The Monarchs were especially sweet for me, as I am taking some classes through Old Dominion and have become quite a fan.

Here are the links to the capsules. Since each is the low seed in its initial matchup, you’ll see a profile of the high seed first, followed by my attempt.

The Old Dominion Monarchs

The Florida A&M Rattlers (This one ended up being covered by another blogger, so I posted it on my own college page)

The Holy Cross Crusaders

The Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Islanders

I knew all of those Who The Hell Are…? articles would be good practice for something, someday.

In addition, if you need further proof that spirochetes are destroying Joakim Noah’s brain, read my Midwest Region Preview at Awful Announcing.

Tomorrow, the LiveBlogPocalypse starts at AA, and I’ll be in my trusty recliner, banging away on the laptop. Except this time, I’ll be watching basketball instead of porn, and by “banging away on the laptop” I’ll actually mean that I’m using a computer.

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Just thought I should recap my campaign to severely damage the fortunes of several mid-major or surprising major teams this season with the “Who The Hell Are…” feature. Without further Freddy Adu, I ask:

Where The Hell Are:

wp4fhqdr.gifThe Winthrop Eagles, The Wright State Raiders, The VCU Rams, The New Mexico State Aggies, The Nevada Wolfpack, The Virginia Tech Hokies, The UNLV Runnin’ Rebs, and The Butler Bulldogs?

All in the NCAA tournament, so my mojo can’t be THAT bad, right?

nitlogo.JPGThe DePaul Blue Demons, The Appalachian State Mountaineers, The Air Force Falcons, The Vermont Catamounts, and The Marist Red Foxes are all in the NIT after getting gonged out of their respective conference auto-bids.

And finally, the one that really hurts (for all of us), the group that is sitting at home on their hands, drinking Maneshevitz and wondering how it all went so horribly wrong:

cryingkid.JPGThe Iona Gaels, The Drake Bulldogs, and The Wichita State Shockers.

The Gaels are no surprise at all. Being of a sarcastic mindset, I chose to write about them because they had the most talked-about losing streak to begin the season, and when they finally got off the schneid, I felt they deserved to be mocked for completely baseless reasons for a change.

The Bulldogs were part of my MVC phase. I shouldn’t be ashamed of that, because we all went through it in the early season. I was blinded by the glow of Tom Davis and his ability to win in the state of Iowa, and I thought his team was scrappy and fun to write about. Plus, there’s a Korver at Drake. Always humorous, those Korvers.

Last is the team I never thought in a million years would miss the postseason entirely. After starting the season with big wins over teams like LSU (then again, they sucked, too, we discovered), the Shocks seemed golden. What a wasted season for the talented seniors on this squad, and support for the notion that coaches, like players, can take a season off after signing a big contract. I hope I’m wrong, and I hope the Wichita State name rises from the ashes next season. Mark Turgeon is a great guy and a great coach, and I think he can do better.

That’s your season recap. I, personally, think it vindicates my reputation as a jinx. The only teams I flat-out killed were Wichita State and Vermont (the second at AA’s request, I might add), and the rest pretty much broke even. In fact, I more or less called Wright State’s remaining season for them. Can’t wait to start things up again next fall.

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I’ve been seeing the Cinderella book popping up as a search term recently, and gaining steam as the tournament approaches and everyone looks back fondly at George Mason’s amazing Final Four run. As a service to my readers, who are hungry for all the college basketball coverage they can get their hands on, and to me, who is looking for a way to provide that coverage without losing his day job, I am going to re-run my review of Michael Litos’ compelling study of the 2006 CAA season. Enjoy.

cinderella.gifThe surprising run that George Mason University made to the 2006 Final Four is the reason this book will be a hit, but it’s not the reason the book was written, and it’s not the only story the book has to tell.

Michael Litos has long chronicled the travails and successes of the Colonial Athletic Association in his blog, titled The CAA: Life as a Mid Major. And this account of one season inside the CAA continues that tradition, giving partisans and outsiders alike a portal into the passion that galvanizes college basketball outside of the elite conferences. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll know a great deal more about NCAA hoops than you did before.

The stars of this book are the coaches. Litos’ narrative follows the CAA season in general, but four personalities really stand out. There’s Jeff Capel, the VCU coach who parlayed mid-major success into a job in the Big 12; ODU’s Blaine Taylor, the preseason favorite who overcame adversity to reach the final four of the NIT; Tom Pecora, the native New Yorker who has made a powerhouse out of Hofstra; and, of course, Jim Larranaga, the man who took his underdog GMU Patriots to Indianapolis before finally bowing to the eventual National Champion. It’s fascinating to see how each man uses his own unique background and philosophy to build a winning team.

There’s solid research behind the personal portraits, however. One early chapter details the economics of Mid-Majordom, which are fraught with “buy games” and miniscule budgets. The picture of a vicious cycle emerges: if a mid-major team gets good enough to beat a major foe, the major foe will never schedule them, and they languish in the RPI basement. That means few NCAA tournament appearances, and no chance to improve or play meaningful games.

The nits must be picked, of course. There is a sense about the book that it was rushed to print, which is perhaps understandable given the unexpected window of opportunity surrounding the GMU triumph. But there are odd word choices and several typos throughout the book. The most baffling, and yet the most hilarious, are the persistent references to college basketball analyst Greg Gumbel as Greg Gumball. The devil is in the details, as they say.

masonwins1.jpgBut everything rich and enjoyable about this book is in the details as well. Mr. Litos’ behind-the-scenes access uncovers some poignant moments: VCU guard Jesse Pellot Rosa mentoring an autistic athlete; The Monarchs’ struggles with grief, disease, and violence; Pecora’s respect for an opponent who has just beaten him; and Larranaga’s famous grit in deciding to sit a star player for the first game of the NCAA’s. Those intimate moments illustrate Coach Pecora’s philosphy that “(E)verything we do is a microcosm of life”. It’s never just a game.

There’s something about this book that resonates a little more than similar in-season studies. Previous books have tried to find the human dimension behind household names like Bobby Knight, Larry Brown, and Dean Smith. But no amount of deconstruction can make a legend seem like the guy next door. In Cinderella, most of us are getting to know the players, coaches, and administrators for the first time, and they are indelibly human. The reader rides the roller coaster, too.

Anyone can debate the merits of the glamor teams. If you really want to sound like a college basketball savant during this year’s NCAA tournament, you owe it to yourself to read this book.

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I love this weekend, when everything is so up in the air in college basketball. But then the brackets are out, you’ve made your picks, and the slow, creeping wait sets in. Well, fear not, my friends. The internets are still aglow with fascinating people who are expert at wasting company time every day of the week, not just during the field of 64.

Without further ado:

Babes Love Baseball expose Roger Clemens as an overgrown frat boy.

One More Dying Quail is pursuing an even more mythical national college football championship.  The final game is a shocker.

Run Up The Score! has classic John Chaney video.  If John brought a knife to a gunfight, he’d still win.

CBS has Niagara beating Kansas.  Awful Announcing thinks you can make better picks than that.

S2N has Baltimore in the Super Bowl already.  I have to say, McNair and McGahee, with that defense… definitely in the hunt.

I Dislike Your Favorite Team has an…. interesting password for their NCAA pool.  Look out VCU fans!

College Rule Notebook clues us in on the Florida A&M Rattlers, who will make a very brief appearance in the NCAA tournament. If they make it out of the play-in round, they face the Jayhawks.

Fellow college basketball nut Just Call Me Juice thinks Syracuse was the only team that could be justifiably punished for wearing those hideous new uniforms, so the committee left them out.

Tomorrow, after you buy your favorite newspaper at 6am to make sure you get your favorite brackets to fill out (what, am I the only one who does that?), make sure to amble over to Deadspin to check out the reader-written team capsules.  The surprise inclusion of Old Dominion as an at-large gave me a chance to dust off some of my favorite Chris Gatling jokes.

It’s the most, wonderful time…. of the year…..

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I finally found what I needed to support my contention that the UNT One O’Clock Lab Band needs to go to the NCAAs – YouTube video. Sadly, the two eejit local morning-show hosts get more airtime than the band, but we get a snippet about 1 minute in, and then the band plays out for about 3 mins after the devastatingly moronic interview segment with the director. Here they are:


In fact, skip the Fred Willard and Katie Couric wannabees and watch this – it’s pure performance:


Actually, this second clip is the 3 O’Clock Band. So these are the guys who haven’t quite made the cut to be understudies to the 1 O’Clock Band. I’d take them, too, if the first two bands are busy.

See, they take up about as much room as a pep band, but swing roughly 1,000 times as hard.

Albert Pujols::Ichiro
Jazz Band::Pep Band

I have nothing against the pep band – they should be there. I just want the other band to go as well.

Let these guys know you’d like to see them at the NCAA Tournament

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My quixotic internet petition drive to get the University of North Texas jazz band to accompany the basketball team to their first-round game is gathering steam moss. I’m up to 30 signatures, but I’m encouraged by the fact that the last few names are not people I know personally, so it must have circulated at least a little bit. What really needs to happen is that the 1:00 Lab Band needs to get ahold of it and sign it. Anyone know someone at UNT? Me either.

Anyway, I’m not giving up until the brackets come out:

Sign My Petition, or I Will Send A Mean Green Eagle to your Doorstep

Don’t make me write a “Who The Hell Are… The University of North Texas Mean Green Eagles” post. Because I like them and don’t want to jinx them. But I’ll do it, see if I wont.

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And now to use a little trick I learned from Brian at One More Dying Quail. When last he wrote for If I Ran…, he gave a teaser of the first paragraph of his article before linking to the other site. Sharp, very sharp. So now, I will do the same. Here is the first tantalizing taste of “If I Ran the Small College Tournaments”, by moi:

I’m going to be honest here. I only have one major change I want to make, but several reasons why I want to make it. I think all of the “Mid Majors”, which include several conferences that would have to be considered “Low Majors” should stop using pre-determined host sites for their conference tournaments. Instead, I favor the Highest Remaining Seed approach, in which high seeds host tournament games in their own gymnasiums, including the final game. Here’s why I think HRS should become the standard for the bracket-busters in waiting.

Read the rest

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jazzband2tn.jpgBy now anyone reading this blog knows I am a college basketball fan. What you may not have known is that I am also a fan of jazz music.

When I saw that the University of North Texas was playing in tonight’s Sun Belt Conference final for the auto-bid to the NCAA tournament, I immediately remembered the UNT One O’Clock Lab Band. UNT has one of the premiere jazz education programs in the U.S., and their student bands are ranked in ability based on what lab session the musicians attend. The One O’Clock session is the top chair.

The band releases an annual CD of their best tunes, and I thought it would be great if the University could be talked into bringing them along to generate interest in the team and the band and the school. If you like basketball, underdog stories, jazz music, or quixotic internet stunts, please sign the petition at the link below:

Make UNT Swing at the Big Dance! (link will open in another window)

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We all love to hear the stories that researchers dig up about small-conference participants in the Big Dance. But since we’ll get to hear those stories ad-nauseum over the next few weeks,cremins-bobby.jpg I’m going to pick the bones of Championship Week and find the things I’m going to miss from the sad detritus of tournament also-rans.

Bobby Cremins’ Hair – I feel like I’ve been watching that magnificent silver coiff and that animated body language my entire college-basketball-lovin’ career. College of Charleston knocked off SoCon #2 seed Appalachian State, but couldn’t seal the deal against #1 Davidson.

Gubernatorial Incontinence – The Austin Peay Governers were upset by Eastern Kentucky, so we won’t get to hear the inspired chant “Let’s Go Peay!” ringing out on national television this year.

Dick Davey’s Cosby Sweater – Just Call Me Juice pays tribute far better than I ever could. With Santa Clara bowing out before the NCAAs, Davey retired, so we’ve missed out on a golden opportunity.

gunston.JPGGeorge Mason’s Larranaga – I have immense respect for Jim Larranaga’s decision to sit his best player for the first NCAA game of last year’s Final Four run after he literally busted an opponent’s balls. Coach knows wrong is wrong, and there are more important things than basketball in a young man’s formative years. Second place: that wacky mascot, Gunston.

Siena’s Mousse Diop – He has a great name, his team bio is charming and folksy, and if he had $10 million dollars, he would go back to Africa, so the racist a-hole in the cheap seats can shut up already.

The Eastern Tennessee State Buccaneers – You don’t get a lot of pirates in a landlocked state. And yet these guys buckle a swash with real panache.

The Virginia Military Institute run-n-gun – America’s future military leaders believe that a powerful offense is a strong defense. They were the highest-scoring team in the country all year long, and they gave the Winthrop Eagles a run for their money in the Big South tourney before they ran out of gas. Bonus points for being my most excellent father-in-law’s alma mater.

Of course, the Ivy League doesn’t run a conference tournament, but the team that came closest to almighty Penn in the regular season was Yale. James Jones (whose twin brother coaches Columbia) is officially the The Joel E. Smilow Class of 1954 Coach of Men’s Basketball, which gives him the longest title I’ve ever seen for a coach. I guess I’ll miss hearing announcers trip over that, or pretend they didn’t see it on the fact sheet.

More to come as the auto-bids keep rolling in.

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