Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Lenten Season of My Life

Lent comes around every Spring and for certain Christians that means it is a time to give something up. (Yes, I know there has been a focus lately on taking things on, but I still think most people think of it as a time to give something up). For Catholics that means that you give up eating meat on Friday and try to find something personal (giving up candy) to sacrifice for 40 days. Growing up as an Episcopalian, I was allowed to eat meat on Fridays, but my parents did encourage me to give something up. For example I remember specifically giving up buying baseball/basketball cards in 5th grade.

Anyway, Lent is a good time to reflect on what you have and what you can do without. Also, it is helps you appreciate things like eating meat on a Friday or drinking Coke or buying baseball cards. There isn't a much better way of making you appreciate something than by taking it away.
    For a variety of reasons, I feel like my life is now focused on what I do not have and what has been given up. M and I do not live close to our family. We do not own a home. We do not have children. We don't even have a dog. We have jobs we like, but I can't say that we have the absolute best career ever. We are newly married 28 year olds, who are focused on improving our finances, job skills, experiences and basically preparing for the next stages in our life.

    One thing that comes from being in this down time in our life is that it gives us time to reflect on what we want in the future. I don't want to speak too much for M, but I think we both appreciate our families more now that we aren't around them. I genuinely enjoy hanging out with my family and hope to one day be closer to them. I would like to think I would still feel that way if I always lived within reasonable distance of them, but that might not be the case. There is no guarantee that if I always lived in Jackson that I wouldn't take them for granted or even worse resent them. Also, not owning a home has allowed us to have a few benefits:

    • We are saving money for a down payment.

    • We know so much more of what we don't want. (A garage door that actually opens when we want it to would be nice.)

    • Flexibility to move

    • A chance to take advantage of a stock market has gone up 13% over the past year.

    Finally, the fact that we don't have kids, but do know many people that are at that life stage has really focused our attention on what it is going to be like with kids. M and I are planning a trip to Europe partly because we know that that type of trip is going to be so much more difficult if we have children. It is nice being able to see a little bit into the future (thanks E) and making the proper preparation. You don't get a chance to do life over again, so it is important to take advantage of each stage of life. We might not have many big things, but that gives us the freedom that we will cherish for as long as it lasts.

    Monday, March 28, 2011

    A few issues with hockey

    Growing up in Mississippi, I never really followed hockey, which makes sense considering that Mississippi doesn't exactly have many backyard ice rinks. The sport was never discussed amongst my friends and family and for a sake of comparasion it really was a sport that was on par with cricket. (Big cricket match coming up on Wednesday between India and Pakistan if you were curious).
      I then decided to make two decisions that forced me to change to recognize hockey as a sport. I went to school at Miami and then I moved to Minnesota. Miami ended up becoming a big time hockey program that recently has been a constant in the NCAA tournament. They have made it to a couple of Frozen Fours and lost one of the most heartbreaking games of my life back in 2009. Also, by moving to self-proclaimed "State of Hockey"I am surrounded by people who think hockey is the best sport. I didn't make either decision with hockey in mind, but both decision did end up involving hockey in a way that I would never have considered.
        Now, I can understand a little bit about the appeal of hockey. It is a fast sport and there aren't many stops in the game. The consistent action and random nature of goals reminds me of a slot machine that pays a big amount every hour or so. You never really know when a goal is going to come, so it is hard not to get excited when it does happen. Also, the fact that isn't at all predictable makes it even that more addicting. Random rewards are more addicting than consistent, predictable rewards. Also, the fact that there aren't as many hockey teams out there means that if you do have a favorite hockey team then odds are better than in other sports that they will be competing in the postseason for a National Title. Finally, it gives relatively random teams (like Minnesota-Duluth or New Hampshire) a chance of winning a title. However, despite that there are a few issues I have with the sport.

          1. Great play doesn't always mean anything on the scoreboard. I have watched enough hockey games to see one team outplay the other team for a long period of time without either team scoring a goal.

          2. Goals are too random. A puck is deflected or ricocheted in just the right way and it leads to a goal. It seems like almost half the goals are the basketball equivalent of a banked in 3 pointer. They might take some skill, but there is also a lot of luck involved.

          3. A shot to win or lose the game doesn't exist in hockey. In basketball, football or baseball there can be one play (a shot down 2, a hail mary down 4 or a possible 2 run home run down 1) where if it goes in one team's favor it is a win and if it doesn't it is a loss. In hockey if a team is down 2-1 the shot at the end would either lose or tie the game. It is more exciting when the shot is to win or lose and not lose or tie.

          4. There isn't that much late game drama. If a team is down at the end they are more likely to win than in other sports. I have no data to back this up, but I feel confident that my statement is accurate. There just isn't much late game drama as there is in games like Butler-Florida or Ohio State-Kentucky.

          5. Overtime is apparantly time to leave. I was reading's recap of the Northeast semifinals and in the article the following appeared "The crowd thinned out once Merrimack and Notre Dame went to overtime." Really? I can't find a sport that exciting if fans leave once overtime starts. This would rarely happen in other sports because overtime should be even more exciting that regulation.

          6. Hockey is unjust and they don't care. Miami was a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament and as such they were paired up against 4th seeded New Hampshire. Guess who had home ice advantage? New Hampshire. Why does an inferior team get to play on home ice as a 4 seed? There was never an explanation besides people on espn saying "it was a tough draw." How is hockey supposed to be taken seriously when their tournament isn't close to being neutral or fair?

          7. The soccer issue is also in full effect with hockey. I missed the first 5 minutes of the Miami-New Hampshire game and ended up missing 2/3 of the non-empty net goals including the one and only Miami goal. This was similar to how I missed the only World Cup Final goal by Spain because I went downstairs to help M move something. My point being is that if you step out for 2 minutes to do something and miss the entire game, then the sport has some real issues. I spend all of hockey and soccer games fearful of going to the bathroom and missing the one and only goal.

          8. Point allocation in the NHL. I was shocked to find out that way points were given out in the NHL. If you win the game in regulation you are given 2 points and the losing team gets 0. However, if the game goes into overtime the winner of the game still gets 2 points, but the losing team gets 1 point. Do the people in charge of hockey think that just because a game goes into overtime the game is now 50% more valuable to both teams? It is in both team's best interest to just go into overtime and ensure that each team gets at least one point. If I was a hockey coach I would try to make a deal with the opposing coach to just mess around in regulation and ensure overtime since that is mutually beneficial to both teams. The economics of this point allocation makes no sense to me. If you want to give the overtime loser some credit then I find that strange, but I'm at least ok with the concept of it if for example the winner got 1.5 points and the loser got 0.5 points. However, to give out more points just because the game went into overtime is just plain crazy. I don't understand why the NHL had to look at sports like basketball and football with their "wins" and "losses" and think to themselves that needed any sort of tweaking.

        Anyway, that is all I can think of right now, but I am sure that next year at this time (the next time I watch hockey because of Miami) I will come up with a few more complaints.

        Friday, March 25, 2011

        The End of the 2010-2011 Duke Season

        Duke's season ended last night in a 93-77 loss to Arizona. My prediction of the team losing in the Sweet Sixteen (read it here) was unfortunately spot on. When the brackets were announced I thought the team that was going to beat them was Texas, but because of some curious late game strategy it ended up being Arizona. It didn't matter. This Duke team's destiny was to lose in the Sweet 16.

        The NCAA tournament is great for the casual fan, but for true fans there isn't any sporting event that is this cruel. The nature of a one and done tournament is that your season always ends on a loss or by winning the National Title. Last year they won the title. This year it was back to the norm. And the cruel thing about the NCAA tournament isn't that you remember the exciting wins (you do), but how difficult the losses linger. I can't tell you much about the 2001 Elite 8 win Duke had against Temple, but I can tell you my exact feelings about Uconn, VCU, West Virginia, Kansas, Indiana, Villanova and now Arizona. The losses stick with you more than the wins.

        As for last night, I have already spent a lot of time and effort thinking about the game. Some of my thoughts are below:
        • Duke had their chance in the 1st half. Without Derrick Williams playing out of his mind, Duke would have been up 20 at halftime. That last three Williams hit to cut the lead from 9 to 6 was extremely important and one of the best shots I have seen all year.
        • I don't remember ever seeing a college basketball team play better than Arizona did in the 2nd half. They shot 57%, grabbed a ton of rebounds and made some tough outside shots. In the end it all equaled an offensive performance of 1.53 points per possession. That is crazy when you think about it. That would be the equivalent of Duke fouling a 76% free throw shooter every single possession.
        • Mason Plumlee and the post players for Duke are terrible. No one watching the game last night should be able to truthfully say that Plumlee is an NBA talent. He seems lost out there and his play severely hurt Duke's chances of winning the game.
        • Derrick Williams on the other hand was incredible. If the Jazz or Twolves get the 1st pick they have to take Williams. How can someone that big and strong be so smart, productive and athletic?
        • Kyrie Irving might come back to Duke next year. I hope he grows 8 inches, because Duke still needs a post player.

        Thank you Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler for returning Duke to their proper place in college basketball. Both of you comprised an excellent senior class and the loss to Arizona does nothing to change that. In 2007 both of you came in (with Taylor King) at a low point in Duke basketball. The year before the team lost to VCU in the first round. With Singler and Smith the team made it from the 2nd round to the Sweet Sixteen to a title and now back to the Sweet Sixteen. Both of them were a large part of 3 ACC championship teams. Against UNC the senior class was 5-4, which is pretty remarkable considering how talented those UNC teams were during that time. It would have been nice to lead Duke to consecutive titles, but given the starting point I would like to think that every Duke fan has nothing but gratitude for your 4 years on the basketball team.

        Thursday, March 24, 2011

        Mason Plumlee

        Dear Mason Plumlee,

        Do you want to be a 1st round draft pick? I know you might be shocked to still even be in the discussion after the year you have had, but I checked Chad Ford's top 100 and somehow you are still the 21st ranked player. Apparently it doesn't matter that you averaged 3.7 points per game last year and only 7.1ppg this year. It is also makes little difference that your free throw shooting % this year is 43%. It seems like NBA scouts still consider you a potential 1st round pick because you are tall, quick and generally a good athlete.

        For the majority of this season, my impression of you has been that you are Josh McRoberts 2.0. Both of you were big time recruits from Indiana that were supposed to help the Duke front court. The height (6-10 each) and weight (220lbs) were remarkably similar with the only main difference being that McRoberts was left handed. However, I checked your numbers with the numbers from McRoberts' sophomore year and it is pretty clear that you haven't had a more productive year. Below is a chart comparing the two years:

        Overall, you haven't had a good year. You turn the ball over too much and your offensive moves consist of dunking the ball and hoping you don't get fouled. However, you have been given a chance with tonight's game. Tonight you are going up against projected top 5 pick Derrick Williams from Arizona. If you stop him and have a somewhat productive offensive game, then I can see NBA scouts forgetting your previous 33 games.

        It has to be nice to know that with one good game, you can make yourself millions of dollars. That should be enough motivation for you to try and help Duke get to the Elite 8.

        Tuesday, March 22, 2011

        The Korean War and Context

        While M might be better known for her book reviews on her blog, I thought I would get in on the act with a few thoughts on a book that I am 2/3 of the way through. Right now I am reading my 3rd David Halberstam book, but unlike the other ones that focused on sports (Michael Jordan and Bill Belichick specifically) this one is about the Korean War. The Coldest Winter is a remarkable read that has made me care about something that I hadn't really thought about before. (And yes, that is true even though I visited the DMZ separating North and South Korea back in 2004.)

        One thing about the book that I especially like is the amount of context Halberstam provides when talking about the people and the situation. It isn't enough to just write about the details of the Korean War and the decisions President Truman, General Douglas MacArthur, Mao Zedong and others made. In order to fully understand the Korean War it is important to understand Dewey defeats Truman, McArthur's relationship with his Mother, and Mao Zedong's revolution against Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists in China.

        Halberstam understood the importance of context and detail. It is remarkable that in a book that is over 600 pages there aren't many wasted words. The context that Halberstam devotes many pages to is critical to the entire story. If you don't know the back story then you don't really know the current story. I think this is extremely relevant point to keep in mind.

        Yesterday, I found a free hour in between cooking dinner (burgers with guacamole) and the Jazz-Grizzlies game (the official nail in the coffin for the Jazz playoff hopes) and decided to watch an episode of Men of a Certain Age. The show is about a group of middle age men dealing with family pressure, divorce and getting old. One of the plot lines from last night was about a guy (Owen) who lost his power during a non-permitted construction project (the contractor lied to him) and needed to get certain permits from a government worker. The government worker was sympathetic to his situation, but repeatedly told Owen about how he couldn't do anything to help him because his hands were tied. Owen focused on how this would impact his family and became increasingly frustrated. Near the end of the show he had an epiphany where he changed his focus from his problems to the government worker's situation. He asked a few basic questions (what sports do you like?) based on contextual clues (a Lakers poster). Finally, he ended up getting the permits by telling a life story that was very relatable to the government worker.

        At that point in the show I might have been the only person in the world who was thinking about how the Korean War and Men of a Certain Age were at all similar. The similarities I found were that the better someone understood the context then the better off the were. Mao Zedong knew more about General McArthur's history and thus was better prepared for him than the other way around. Owen in Men of a Certain Age finally understood the government worker's world and once he did he was able to certain a certain failure into a success.

        In the end I think that context is underrated in terms of importance. When separating people who pretend like they know (and are basically just good actors) and people who do know, the difference is the depth of their understanding. The more information someone has on a topic, the better informed you will be from listening to them. Context is key.

        Friday, March 18, 2011

        March Madness

        I feel like anybody who has ever gambled on a sporting event has a bad betting story they can tell on demand. Time to add mine to the list. Yesterday, I had a friend place a bet on BYU to win by more than *9 points. They were playing the small school of Wofford, and I thought even without Brandon Davies that the game should be a BYU blowout. The game started off slow, but by the end of the game BYU held a 14 point lead with 2 minutes to g0, which meant I had a 5 point lead on the spead. Here are the next sequence of possessions.

        *The line actually started at 8 points, but moved to 9 points right before the guy placed the bet.
        1. Charles Abouo (who had just missed a 3 point shot on BYU's end) fouls a three point shooter, which allows Wofford to close the margin to 11 points (2 points over the spread). If Abouo didn't go to BYU, I would think about accusing him of fixing the game.

        2. After Jimmer (BYU's star guard) makes a 2 point jump shot, Wofford matches him with a jump shot of their own. Still I have a 2 point lead over the spread.

        3. After BYU makes two straight free throws, Wofford continues their hot streak with another 3 pointer. That means they have scored 8 points on 3 possessions. The BYU lead is only 1 over the spread and I am getting nervous about my -9 bet.

        4. With a 1 minute left they foul Jimmer, who calmly hits two free throws to push the lead to 3 points over the spread.

        5. Wofford again matches these two points with a layup of their own.With only 54 seconds left the lead over the spread is down to 1.

        6. Wofford fouls Jimmer, who only makes 1-2 free throws despite being a 89% free throw shooter. The lead is only 2 points over the spread.

        7. Wofford comes down and doesn't waste much time (only 9 seconds) before missing a jump shot. BYU comes down with the ball and the Wofford couch decides to stop pursuing the win (it is a 11 point BYU lead) and doesn't foul BYU. On BYU's possesion Jimmer shoots a ridiculous 3 with 9 seconds still left on the shot clock and about Wofford gains possesion with about 10 seconds left.

        8. Wofford then brings the ball up with a player who almost dribbles the ball out of bounds. He starts heading towards the basket, which means I am thinking a layup will be next and my bet will be a push at -9. However, BYU's defense steps up and the Wofford player throws the ball out to a teammate who is standing alone at the 3 point line. With 2 seconds left the Wofford player shoots a 3 pointer that cuts the BYU lead from 11 to 8. This is just enough for BYU to not push or cover the 9 point line.

        This was my "kids you shouldn't gamble" moment. This was my bad beat. It got even worse when I checked to see who shot the ball. I was expecting it was a good three point shooter since Wofford is 9th in the country in 3 point shooting percentage. Imagine my shock when I saw the shooting numbers from the player who took that last shot. He was a senior from Cincinnati named Terry Martin his his entire career before the BYU game he had attempted three 3 pointers and made none. In the 2011 kenpom scouting report Terry Martin doesn't even appear in the "nearly invisible" category. He was playing in his last game yesterday and in the 1794 minutes before that last shot he had never once made a 3 pointer. Yesterday, his 3 pointer was enough to turn a gambling win into a gambling loss. Those type of moments are what should serve as a public service announcement on why you shouldn't gamble.

        Wednesday, March 9, 2011

        2011 Twins ticket draft

        I went in with a group of friends for a full season of tickets for the Minnesota Twins. This year I signed up for 10 games, and tonight we had our draft. Below are my round by round selections:
        1. Friday, August 19th - New York Yankees: This was an easy 3rd pick (1st was opening game and 2nd pick was the Saturday Yankees game) because the Yankees are a marquee team, a predicted warm day and a weekend game.
        2. Tuesday, August 9th - Boston Red Sox: This was a little bit tougher, but I decided to go for another marquee team over a Friday or Saturday night game. Also, I know someone who is a Red Sox fan, who probably would enjoy going to this game. It was tough picking between this game and the next game on my list.
        3. Tuesday, June 28th - Los Angeles Dodgers: I was very pleased that the Dodgers game was still available come round three. My favorite team growing up was the Dodgers and I really wanted to see them versus my current favorite team.
        4. Sunday, May 29th - Anaheim Angels: This was the one game on my list that I had to get. My brother-in-law is coming in town that weekend and I promised him tickets to the Sunday Angels game, so that he could see Target Field. It was risky to wait till the 4th round, but I predicted that the game was still available and I wanted the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers games more. This was my favorite of all the picks.
        5. Sunday, June 19th - San Diego Padres: Interleague and weekend game made this a pretty easy selection.
        6. Sunday, August 28th - Detroit Tigers: My third straight Sunday game, which was an unexpected occurrence. At this point it was clear there I wasn't going to be getting more than one Friday or Saturday games. Picking the Tuesday Dodgers and Red Sox games kind of sealed my fate on the lack of Friday or Saturday night games.
        7. Tuesday, July 19th - Cleveland Indians: This late of the draft I was just hoping for a warm game. Middle July against the Indians certainly works there.
        8. Tuesday, May 24th - Seattle Mariners: I love seeing Ichiro play, so that was another pretty easy selection.
        9. Tuesday, April 26th - Tampa Bay Rays: Not many selections left, so I pick an April game because up till this selection I didn't have any games before May 24th.
        10. Wednesday, April 13th (noon) - Kansas City Royals: For my last pick I was stuck with a weekday April game against the Royals. I will either have to work around this game or sell these tickets, because I don't think I have the vacation time to this day off.
        Overall I am pleased with the games I ended up picking. It hopefully will be a great season for the Twins that ends with me using these seats in the playoffs.

        Monday, March 7, 2011

        Duke basketball: 2010-2011 edition

        Coming into the 2001-2002 season Duke's men's basketball team was well positioned for another successful year. They had won the title in 2001 and returned many of the same players. Sure seniors Shane Battier and Nate James had graduated, but those players were replaced with talented transfer Dahntay Jones and freshmen point guard Daniel Ewing. However, the main reason for the optimism was that Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy were returning instead of opting for the NBA draft. The talent was definitely there especially considering there were 6 players on that team that would end up playing in the NBA. There was no surprise when they were the preseason #1 ranked team.

        The 2001-2002 team finished the year 31-4 with a 13-3 record in the ACC. They ended up losing to eventual national runner-up Indiana by one point in a game that was considered the biggest upset in the tournament. After the year Williams, Boozer and Dunleavy left to go to the NBA.

        Coming into the 2010-2011 season Duke's men's basketball was well positioned for another successful year. They had won the title in 2010 and returned many of the same players. Sure seniors Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas had graduated, but those players were replaced with talented transfer Seth Curry and freshmen point guard Kyrie Irving. However, the main reason for optimism was that Nolan Smith, Kyle Sinlger and Mason Plumlee were returning instead of opting for the NBA draft. The talent was definitely there especially considering there were 4 players on the team that were projected to play in the NBA. There was no surprise when they were the preseason #1 ranked team.

        The 2010-2011 season has seen Duke go 27-4 with a 13-3 record in the ACC. How will they do in the NCAA tournament? As evidenced by my last post I think this team will lose in the Sweet Sixteen and thus match the 2001-2002 Duke season in almost every conceivable manner.

        Saturday, March 5, 2011

        Duke - UNC

        Tonight the University of North Carolina held serve at home and in the process won the 2011 ACC regular season. The outcome of this game meant that the preseason #1 ranked Duke Blue Devils couldn't even win a watered down league. This year's UNC team should be credited for what was a remarkable season. They won every close ACC game (5-0 in games decided by 5 points or less) and could easily have finished with the forth best record in the ACC. Also, they improved. The talent was always there, but talent is almost always there at UNC. This year's team has projected lottery picks (Barnes and Henson) as well as plenty of former McDonald's All-Americans and a point guard that makes me miss Larry Drew. Last year's team was talented, and they were also terrible. This year's team seems to have finally figured things out and is peaking at the right time. It doesn't take much effort to see that team making it to the Final Four.

        However, that is the story I want to write since my concern is for the 2nd place, 2nd seed in the ACC tournament and probably 2nd seed in the NCAA tournament. It should be hard to complain about a team that has only lost four games, but for a variety of factors it isn't that difficult. For one this team should be better. Sure, they lost a group of talented seniors from last year's team, but they were replacing them with a top ranked recruit (Kyrie Irving) and a big time transfer (Seth Curry). Also, the thought was that everyone (with a special emphasis on the Plumlees) would improve. Out of that only Seth Curry's production has matched expectations.

        Here are my thoughts on the game from tonight
        • Duke's starting forwards (Singler, Kelly and Plumlee) were 4-25 from the field. How is that possible? Singler was a preseason player of the year candidate, Kelly was a McDonald's-All American and Plumlee has been considered a possible lottery pick.
        • I liked Pat Forde's take on Singler "It's been painful watching Singler shoot. Looks like he has no confidence."
        • M liked my take on Singler when I complained about how he looked so much better against UNC his freshmen year compared to this year. I compared Singler to Benjamin Button since he seems to have regressed over the years instead of improving.
        • Did Ryan Kelly really win the McDonald's All-American 3 point contest? I don't know if if is more surprising that he was a McDonald's All-American or that there was a point in time when he could shoot well?
        • Nolan Smith is incredibly good. It is nice rooting for a team that almost always has the best player on the court.
        • Coach K doesn't take many transfers, but when he does he picks up good players - Seth Curry is another one.
        • Andre Dawkins needs to play more minutes. I don't know what Coach K is doing to the kid, but Dawkins can be one of the better players on the team. You can't blame Coach K for Dawkins missing three straight free throws, but he hasn't exactly shown his confidence in him.
        • Mason Plumlee had some tough calls go against him in the game. His gambling style on defense was not made for the way the game was called.
        • For all of the Duke fans who are going to complain about Duke's post players, rest assured that help is on the way next year. Next year Duke gets another (wait for it) Plumlee. Whether it is Wojo or the recruiting it would help having one person in the post to match up with the Zellers and Hensons from UNC.
        • UNC's shooting in the first half was incredible. They had many long two point shots that I was happy when they took them and not so happy when I saw the result.
        • Duke looks like one of those teams that does well against mediocre competition - especially at home. When they face a good team or a tough environment they lose. That means they will win in the 1st round of the tournament pretty easily, win by 10 in the 2nd round then lose by 7 to a good team in the Sweet Sixteen.
        • It was really depressing writing that I think they are going to lose in the Sweet Sixteen, but if they are matched up against a #3 seed like Syracuse then I think they are going to lose.
        • It is pretty cool what UNC does by starting all the seniors in the last game.
        • However, it was kind of surprising watching UNC storm the court. Act like you have been there before.
        Anyway, next week is the ACC tournament and then Selection Sunday. I will have more thoughts later.