Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"Beer Wars" Examines The Brutal, Grocery-Aisle Fight For Your Brew Budget

I spent most of my college years waiting tables and bartending, which can make for some interesting lecture participation when it comes to analyzing the phenomenon of automatic writing as it relates to the application of split-line poetry. Anyway, I was fortunate enough to spend a few of these formative years at a restaurant that was forward-thinking enough to recognize the microbrew movement and work hard to stay at the forefront of the growing trend of offering specialty brews on draught.

Not only did this experience feed my lifelong love affair with beer, but it helped me cultivate an understanding of what I was imbibing, on a level somewhat deeper than how much a case of Colders 29 might cost or how long it would take to make a keg of Beast Light disappear. From porters to stouts, from IPAs to ambers, I began to develop an appreciation for the art that goes into the brewing process, the misunderstood and oft-ignored pieces of the puzzle that can help a brew go from good to great, or from skunky to sublime.

Years of attending regional microbreweries and taking advantage of relationships with local brewmasters who offered seasonal offering and varietal brews helped me cement a discerning eye and a refined palate when it came to the suds. This borderline obsession culminated in last year's visit to the Guinness Storehouse, a mecca of beerdom that has been known to make grown men cry.

That recognition of brewing as art is one of the factors that has led director Anat Baron to release a documentary titled "Beer Wars," which can be viewed as part of a one-night event on Thursday, April 16. Billed as a no-holds-barred look at the David vs. Goliath nature of the battle between small, independent brewers and vicious beer corporations, "Beer Wars" is working hard to mount a grassroots campaign to both market the flick and establish a following of beer geeks. In the trailer, one man notes that "Most Americans have never had a real beer," while another says, "Everything in America that's important is around beer." The video goes on to detail the uphill battle that microbreweries face in gaining a foothold in the ruthless and cutthroat battle for the consumer six-pack dollar. Myself, I'm hoping for a Michael Moore-style hard look at the jungle warfare employed by "the man" to keep down the startup beer-trepreneur.

On top of all that, Ben Stein is involved … so how can it miss?

Check it out for yourself -- and bottoms up!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Getting The P.R. Knowledge From A Real Guerrilla Of A Prick

"It's all about accentuating the positive, showing people the benefit to them of what you're offering. You don't sell beds; you sell sweet dreams and good sex … The Guerrilla publicist always sees his mission in a wider context. There's a popular bumper sticker that reads 'Think globally, act locally.' That's the attitude behind Guerrilla P.R."

When I was recently tabbed for a new job back in the public relations world, I had to brush up on my P.R. chops, dust off some old textbooks and start re-educating myself on this occasionally cutthroat, rapidly moving field. Obviously, more than a little bit has changed since I was sleeping through Communications classes and doodling my way through Journalism lectures, so I contacted a few buddies in the field. I was looking for some suggestions as to how to get up to speed on what works and what doesn't in public relations — and "Guerrilla P.R. 2.0" by Michael Levine was near the top of the list.

I'd been heavily involved in the marketing space over the past decade-plus, but there are not-so-subtle differences and nuances in these two fields (as Levine puts it, "P.R. is the art, marketing is the science."). I'd hammered out the occasional press release for a basement-based jewelry store and the odd case study for an automotive insurance company in a former life as an SEO copywriter for an interactive marketing and chicken finger agency, but getting back into the swing of things from a P.R. perspective was a must for my new gig.

Levine laid the foundation right away, putting public relations into context in words that resonate for any level of writer:

"Public relations is an art that creates an image (hopefully, an accurate one, but certainly a polished one) of you and your business, and presents it in a controlled, planned fashion that will convey exactly what you want to say without having to be obvious about it."

Using a no-nonsense approach, Levine discussed everything from media kits to crisis management and everything in between. He covered deliverables such as press releases, e-mail blasts, podcasts and speeches, plus topics as diverse as photographs, podcasts, interviews, events, clips and tradeshows. I’m not going to say I agreed with everything he had to say, but it was all food for thought and informative.

Now, I will say that my buddy sat in on one of Levine's lectures once, and he described Levine as a "complete prick." However, he went on to say, "but he knows his shit," and both facts were apparent in Levine's work here. I think heading straight into a textbook-style look at P.R. would have been a little overwhelming (not to mention boring) for me starting out, so Levine's free-wheeling, conversational tone worked better with what I was looking for at the time.

Of everything I learned, I came away most taken with Levine's oft-repeated mantra:

" … There are two speeds in today's media world — fast and dead."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Limerick Friday LXXXXXXVI: NFL Treats QBs Like Little Bitches, Plus Change Comes To State Hoops

The NFL is finding new ways to become lame
They're cutting at least one preseason game
They're planning to expand the regular season
And now if you hit a QB, they consider it treason
Should leave well alone and be fine with more of the same

Good and bad news 'round Pack Nation to be heard
The departure of Brandon Costner and Ferguson, Turd
Of the Wolfpack, they'll always be a part
But it's high time for a fresh start
Tough times in Raleigh, where optimism is a bad word

Wedding bells are sounding for Mr. Letterman, Dave
He's worked up the strength to take vows and be brave
After dating for roughly 23 years
He vanquished his wedding fears
Now the speculation begins about what made him cave

A national champion in wrestling for the Red and White
And one in diving as well, made for a memorable night
Finally, good news reaches a hurting Wolfpack Nation
A coupla underdogs for a school with good news starvation
Proud that State's kids never go down without a fight

As a boy, he killed a small chicken
Grew up to kill anyone that Ben was pickin'
A rough time for Sayid, who is stuck in time
Took a truth serum and then dropped the dime
He shot a young Ben -- but is his heart still tickin'?

Obama sends the mandate to Motor City
To stop making cars with emissions so shitty
So enough with enormous trucks if you please
Made for rednecks with short-man's disease
Drastic changes are needed, right down to the nitty gritty

Last time

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Twitter => "Randomly Bragging About Your Unexceptional Life"

Count me among those who doesn't remotely understand the new obsession with Twitter (and yes, I'm willing to admit some level of irony and possibly hypocrisy surrounding the fact that I am, indeed, blogging about this). I'm unamused and unconvinced by terms like "twoted" and "Fail Whale," and I think this is yet another in a long line of disturbing examples of our society's sense of self-entitlement and self-importance.

That's why this video, starring a Jim from "The Office"-like character, speaks my language, nailing the idea of "constant self-affirmation" perfectly. And that's the twouble with Twitters ...


Monday, March 23, 2009

"War and Peace" Was All, Like, Really Long, And I Think Russia Won

"Pierre gazed at the door through which she had disappeared and did not understand why he suddenly felt all alone in the world."

Reading "War and Peace" can be described less as a venture than as a quest, a personal mission of some kind. Over several months, I took on this 1,400-page monster, working my way into the blended stories of the War of 1812 and the aristocratic nature of early 19th-century Russia. Leo Tolstoy's epic masterpiece (originally titled "War: What is it good for?", according to Elaine in perhaps the greatest Seinfeld episode of all time, "The Marine Biologist") was originally published in 1869, and is credited in many quarters for breaking a lot of existing conventions and perceptions of the novel form.

Labeled as historical fiction, "War and Peace" is also a love story, a morality tale, a coming of age piece on Pierre Bezukhov and Natasha Rostov ("She turned round. For a few seconds they gazed silently into one another's eyes—and what had seemed impossible and remote suddenly became possible, inevitable and very near."), and a condemnation of the caste system in place in the Europe of the time. This enormous story featured myriad themes, including first-person accounting of wartime, a realistic painting of Napoleon Bonaparte, slight racism (" … the disorder was readily and naturally attributed to the stupid Germans, and everyone was convinced that a dangerous muddle had been occasioned by the sausage-eaters."), a historical blush and other techniques that were basically unheard-of at the time.

The book is largely informed by Tolstoy's own upbringing as a member of the privileged class; he was always bucking against his unearned lot in life, always seeking for a simpler way of getting along in the world. Tolstoy was somewhat obsessed with examining the dichotomy between the depravity and horrors of war and the gentile nature and hypocritical approach of aristocratic life. He also was intent on defining his theories about the militaristic philosophy then abounding throughout Europe:

"An inner voice tells us we are in the wrong if we are idle. If man could find a state in which he felt that though idle he was fulfilling his duty, he would have found one of the conditions of man's primitive blessedness. And such a state of obligatory and irreproachable idleness is the lot of a whole class—the military. The chief attraction of military service has consisted and will consist in this compulsory and irreproachable idleness."

With its voluminous length and the hard work required to complete it, "War and Peace" has basically become synonymous with any supremely long, boring or insanely difficult work. Even the largely unfunny Woody Allen once said, "I read 'War and Peace' in 20 minutes. It involves Russia."

Initially, I was drawn to this read by a desire to familiarize myself with Tolstoy's work and to simply be able to say that I freaking read "War and Peace." Gradually, though, I began to get sucked into the story—especially the statements on the proceedings of the Moscow elite—and to recognize Tolstoy's profound brilliance and unique style. Hopefully, working my way through this novel will help me summon the strength to one day tackle James Joyce's epic "Ulysses."

I think I'll need to throw in a few comics and Stephen King books in the meantime, though.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Limerick Friday LXXXXXXV: Reverend Sun Yung Moon-s The U.S.

The U.S. Navy took to the seas singing a sailor tune
A quick trip, then they'd return to shore soon
Until they came across a boat full of Chinese
Who decided to show them their slanty hineys
Guess they were followers of the Reverand Sun Yung "Moon"

Wolfpack players journeyed to the Mississippi Coast
To take advantage of spring break more than most
They helped those struggling after Katrina's attack
Makes you even more proud to pull for the Pack
Champs in the community and the competition they'll roast

Intense opening with another plane downed
Chaos and mayhem ensue when they hit the ground
A 30-year-old Sawyer vs. Jack power struggle
Kate and Juliet fight over who gets to Sawyer snuggle
As both man and child, a concussed Ben is sure to be around

Layoffs keep attacking the newspaper biz
Who is left is the question for a quiz
Shitcanning folks left and right
No matter how well they write
Don't pay for the paper anymore—I just steal his

Louisville and UConn should come out of the West
In the East, Pittsburgh would appear to be the best
The Heels' Achilles heel is little Ty's little toe
Could LSU or Gonzaga send them home with a flat "No"?
All answers will be revealed during the "Big Dance" test

Last time

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Forty-Year-Old Tale of Christian The Lion Tugs Heartstrings, Changes Misconceptions

OK, so ... maybe I’m the only one in the nation who hadn’t heard about or seen the video of "Christian the Lion." After I overheard a reference on one of the morning shows, I went a-looking on the magic InterWebs and found the YouTube video that details the amazing story of Christian the Lion.

The tale began when Aussies Anthony “Ace” Bourke and John Rendall, recently graduated from university, moved to London to work in a custom furniture shop. The two saw a tiny lion cub for sale in a department store and, boasting an Outback sensibility, decided to purchase the cub, name him “Christian” and raise him in London proper. They gave Christian the run of the furniture shop, gave him mattresses to play with and took him to a local park to chase a soccer ball.

A year later, with Christian growing from 35 to 185 pounds, Bourke and Rendall came to the realization that it simply wasn’t feasible to raise a full-grown lion in the middle of London anymore. Eventually, they hooked up with the right parties that could release Christian into the African wild, where he eventually assimilated. A year later, ignoring warnings that Christian would not remember them and that they would endanger themselves by coming near him, Bourke and Rendall decided to journey to Africa in an effort to reunite with the lion they had raised since he was a cub.

What happened is shown below, and while I’m not sure Whitney Houston adds much to the story, this video can jerk out the tears from 40 years away. Some are crediting this footage (a longer version is here) with helping to inspire rekindled interest in wilderness preservation, ecology and animal rights, and to help alter mindsets surrounding the emotional and intellectual capabilities of animals.

I’m already a pretty big animal person, so I’m not sure it did those things for me, someone who already believed in those traits … what it did do was make it quite dusty in here, make me reach for the Kleenex and remember friends lost.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

David Caruso Joins Christopher Walken in Becoming A Caricature Of Himself

The male version of Shelley Long when it comes to career choices, David Caruso hasn't exactly struck it big on that beckoning movie career after leaving "NYPD Blue" lo these many years ago. However, he did eventually strike out laterally (at best) to land on "CSI: Miami," where he has become a cult hero for his brutally cheesy one-liners.

At this point, it is hard to tell whether he is aware of his caricature and has simply adopted a delicious, Christopher Walken-style ability to poke fun at himself and turn the idea of being himself into a running punchline. Caruso attempts to build drama with these incredibly awesome pregnant pauses that would make Jim Rome jealous, and the fact that he fancies himself a "serious" actor only makes them that much better:

"Yes ... he does, Frank ... I ... (puts on sunglasses) ... am going to ... beat the wave .. (meaningful eye contact, something dramatic reflected in sunglasses) ... to Miami ... Frank ... (strides away purposefully)."

Enjoy …

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

ACC Tournament Predictions: Cover Your Eyes, Pray For A Fair Game And Pin Your Tail On The Champion

Well, it's finally here. All the breaking down and analysis has been done, all the traveling has taken place, and all the predictions for the 2009 ACC Tournament in Atlanta are being made. Like in 2007 and 2008, Scooter & Hum is giving it another shot at picking the ACC tourney bracket.

Before we proceed to the horrifically erroneous choices, a word about the officials: swallow the whistle. Or don't. Just be consistent. Please, no games where 58 fouls are called followed by a game where 19 are whistled. If you want to allow Tyler Hansbrough four steps, fine (kind of a senior-citizen discount, I get that); but don't call Tracy Smith for making a pivot step. Don't penalize Tyrese Rice for carrying on a cross-over dribble, then let Ty Lawson cover 25 feet on one dribble. Don't tag Dave Neal for a touch foul in the post, then let Nolan Smith hand-check the absolute christ out of someone for 94 feet. Don't officiate player reactions instead of actual fouls and don't call ridiculous intentional fouls because a guy falls down in a certain way. Don't call the silly-ass flops (playing defense while laying on your tailpipe? Really?) and let these guys play. In a word, don't turn this into the NBA/WWF. Blow the whistle, not Coach K; and don't be Roy's boy toy. You've embarrassed the ACC for long enough, haven't you? And hell, Ron Cherry is doing the same thing in football. So remember … only you can ruin a good thing.

With that Scooter service announcement, on to the show …


Game 1, Noon: #8 Virginia Tech vs. #9 Miami
Here’s an intriguing matchup between two teams that closed the regular season poorly and are in desperate need of a victory (or three) in Atlanta. The Hokies have largely gotten by on smoke and mirrors while the Hurricanes have arguably underperformed for most of the season, but obviously, none of that matters a bit when these two kick off the 2009 ACC Tournament at high noon. VT’s A.D. Vassallo should have his usual tremendous game, but you have to think that the Hokies’ Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen will be neutralized by the ‘Canes’ Jack McClinton and Dwayne Collins, and overall, Miami just has a couple more pieces than Virginia Tech. In a close one that might see VT’s Seth Greenberg try to choke official Karl Hess with a dradle, McClinton goes nuts and the Hurricanes pull off the tourney’s first (very minor) upset.
Winner: #9 Miami

Game 2, 2:30 p.m.: #5 Clemson vs. #12 Georgia Tech
This is a poor matchup for the Jackets, who have enough talent to pull off an upset or two, but didn’t get a favorable draw. The Tigers will press rookie point guard Iman Shumpert (who isn’t a true point guard at all) to death and Clemson’s Trevor Booker won’t let GT’s Gani Lawal dominate the boards. Throw in a handful of 30-footers from Terrence Oglesby and a few floaters from K.C. Rivers and the Tigers shouldn’t have too much trouble with this one, even if the Jackets’ Lewis Clinch finds the range for a little while. Tech fans will be chanting “Derrick-Favors” with 7 minutes left and Paul Hewitt will be mumbling “Wait ‘til next year,” but it’s going to be a long, uncomfortable summer on the warm seat in an already hot Atlanta for Hewitt.
Winner: #5 Clemson

Game 3, 7 p.m.: #7 Maryland vs. #10 NC State
The two biggest storylines in this one will be health of Courtney Fells’s groin (it feels weird even to type that) for State and the hostility level created by “General” Greivis Vasquez’s classless three-pointer as the teams were walking off the court in the last matchup. The Terrapins are in desperation mode, but the Pack should have won the first meeting and may have caught lightning in a bottle by putting point guard Javy Gonzalez on Vasquez, turning that matchup into a Puerto Rican streetfight. The Wolfpack has more pieces, but NC State has to find a way to beat Maryland’s aggressive zone and feed Tracy Smith in the post, allow Ben McCauley to feed cutters and work Brandon Costner on the pick-and-pop. State catches magic in its palm for long enough to pull it off and destroy the Terps’ postseason hopes, sending Vasquez out into the Atlanta night with a bottle of tequila and a postcard.
Winner: #10 NC State

Game 4, 9:30 p.m.: #6 Boston College vs. #11 Virginia
I could sum up this game in two words—Tyrese Rice—but that would disappoint me and maybe even you. The Wahoos have played a little better down the stretch while B.C. has faded, but Rice lives for these moments and is one of those kids who scrambles for the spotlight. Virginia has Sylvan Landesberg, but little else, and it’s tough to ask a true freshman to carry a squad in the ACC Tournament. Rice and Rakim Sanders might outscore the Cavaliers by themselves, thankfully putting the dagger in Virginia’s forgettable season and forcing Wahoo fans to question whether coach Dave Leitao can last another year in Charlottesville. Oh well, it’s time to don the orange pants and merrily traipse off across the Grounds to drown your sorrows, UVa fan … you shan’t tarry!
Winner: #6 Boston College


Game 5, Noon: #1 UNC vs. #9 Miami
The first time these two met, Miami gave away the game and Ty Lawson won it for the Heels on a running three-pointer at the buzzer. But people forget that the ‘Canes’ grizzled inside force, Dwayne Collins, didn’t play in that game. Between Collins and Jeremy Hyatt’s doppelganger, Jimmy Graham, Tyler “The Traveler” Hansbrough will have all the physicality he supposedly thrives on, but will he be able to summon his sidekick, Will, to flop around like a salmon on the dock? Toss in Miami’s desperation factor, Roy Williams’s relative disdain for the ACC Tournament, the Heels’ already-locked-up No. 1 NCAA seed, UNC’s lack of defense against strong point guards, and Lawson’s meanie, hurt-y big toe and … yes, by god, I’m picking the Hurricanes. And no, I haven’t been drinking yet today. Wishful thinking? Maybe, but I just gotta feeling (and not for the flavor of a Pringle).
Winner: #9 Miami

Game 6, 2:30 p.m.: #4 Florida State vs. #5 Clemson
Not a good matchup for the ‘Noles here. Clemson’s press will take the ball out of Toney Douglas’s hands and force Florida State to go to other options in the halfcourt—and FSU just doesn’t have those. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but the Tigers have a lot more offensive weapons and are more well-rounded than the Seminoles, who have mostly been a one-man team this year. This one is going to be close, and it’s more than possible that Douglas goes freaking off as a result of being screwed over for ACC Player of the Year, but I just see FSU’s Cinderella season ending here in the league, although they’ll be playing in the “Big Dance.” Clemson has played well in the conference tourney in recent seasons, and while they might not have enough to win it all this year, they have enough to take down Florida State in a very mild upset.
Winner: #5 Clemson

Game 7, 7 p.m.: #2 Wake Forest vs. #10 NC State
These two split during the regular season, with the Pack confusing Wake’s Jeff Teague with a variety of junk defense in the first matchup and the Deacs’ Jeff Johnson simply taking over the game in the second go-around. State likely would have swept Wake Forest if bricklaying point guard Ish Smith hadn’t hit some highly improbable shots, but the Wolfpack simply doesn’t currently have the depth to match Wake, especially with Courtney Fells hobbled. Expect the Pack’s Farnold Degand to get a few five-second calls, Tracy Smith to get whistled for a couple of imaginary travels and Brandon Costner to spend most of his time looking like he’d rather be watching “Gilmore Girls.” NC State will give yet another valiant effort only to fall down the stretch as the Demon Deacons rediscover their inside-out game.
Winner: #2 Wake Forest

Game 8, 9:30 p.m.: #3 Duke vs. #6 Boston College
B.C. took down the Devils during the regular season, so don’t be surprised if and when it happens again. The Blue Devils are still trying to find the right mix in the backcourt, and that’s a dangerous proposition this late in the year, especially against a guard tandem as accomplished as Tyrese "Eric B." Rice and Rakim "Er ... Rakim" Sanders. The Eagles’ Joe Trapiani is talented enough to somewhat offset the production of Duke’s versatile Kyle Singler, but Boston College, like most teams, has no answer for Gerald Henderson. This one will likely turn into a who-can-top-who, game-within-the-game squareoff between Rice and Henderson, but as noted in the seeding breakdown, Rice thrives on moments like this. All the handchecking, flopping, disturbing John Scheyer faces, hair polish and ref-baiting in the world won't be enough to save Coach K’s Dookies as Rice drops in a floater at the buzzer to dash the Devils’ dreams.
Winner: #6 Boston College


Game 9, 1:30 p.m.: #5 Clemson vs. #9 Miami
I really, really want to pick the ‘Canes here, probably because I think a Jack McClinton-Tyrese Rice or a Jack McClinton-Jeff Teague matchup for the ACC Tournament title would be phenomenal. Alas, reality prevails, and I can’t quite shake the fact that, if it were not for some horrific officiating in the regular-season finale, Miami would have been swept by a supremely average NC State club. McClinton is good enough to carry his team through a coupla games, but I just don’t know if he has the legs to sustain it against a deep Clemson squad that loves to press for 40 minutes. Frank Haith can Jedi-mind-trick the referees with the best of them, but it won’t quite be enough. This will be another tight one, but I see the Tigers prevailing in the end and (*gulp*) advancing to the finals.
Winner: #5 Clemson

Game 10, 4 p.m.: #2 Wake Forest vs. #6 Boston College
As mentioned above, you can’t go wrong with a Jeff Teague-Tyrese Rice squareoff, and this could be a barnburner in the semifinals. The Eagles don’t have the horses (*insert joke about Al Skinner’s horse teeth here*) to match Wake Forest’s pace, but B.C. is good enough to impose its tempo on the young, immature Demon Deacons. Can they do it for an entire game? I don’t think so. Rice will get the better of Teague, but Johnson and Aminu will be too much on the interior for Josh Southern and his merry bunch of no-names. Valiant effort for Boston College, but like Miami, they’ll be left with nothing left to do but sweat through Selection Sunday with their fingers and cornrows crossed as the Deacs pull away late.
Winner: #2 Wake Forest


Game 11, 1 p.m.: #5 Clemson vs. #2 Wake Forest
Jeezus Christy, how the F did I end up here? If I was a smarter man, I’d rethink a few of my selections at this point, but the reality is I’m a go-with-your-gut sorta dude, and hell, I just see this ACC Tournament as relatively wide open. People forget that the Deacs were ranked No. 1 in the land for a little while earlier this year, and while they’re obviously not that good, they do have a tremendous amount of talent. Coach Dino Gaudio’s biggest challenge has been getting these guys to share the ball and overcome a lack of upperclassmen leadership. The good news for Wake is that they match up pretty well with the Tigers and shouldn’t have too much of an issue with the Clemson press since they essentially play two point guards. The Demon Deacons can throw numbers at Clemson’s Trevor Booker, and while he’s a beast, he is surrounded by one-dimensional garbage men on the interior and can’t do it all himself. Don’t forget that the Tigers have been known to choke away leads in the final moments due to poor free-throw shooting, but I don’t see this one going that far, with Wake maturing and growing up and into a true team right in front of everyone's eyes. Surprising even themselves, Wake cuts down the nets in Atlanta and then, in a show of team unity, grows out their bangs to honor Skip Prosser.
Champion: #2 Wake Forest

EDITOR'S NOTE: Jeezus H. Christ on a popsicle stick, what have I freaking done here?!

Seeding Breakdown, Part II: The Second Six, Or The Very Under-est Of The Underdogs

The ACC Tournament is nearly upon us, and after looking at the top six seeds yesterday, today we take a look at the bottom half of the league seeds (my 2007 and 2008 breakdowns are also available if you're the nostalgic type). Swing back by for my bracket breakdown at some point this afternoon if you're interested.

Giddyup …

#7 Maryland (18-12 overall, 7-9 in the ACC)
Coach Gary “Another Dewar’s, please” Williams has been dogged all season long about his refusal to play the game of AAU basketball, his recruiting tactics and the fact that none of his players has ever passed a class, ever. All that being said, he’s done yet another rather remarkable job to put his Terps in position to actually be considered for an NCAA Tournament bid. Losing three out of four down the stretch—to Virginia? Really?—means Maryland’s on the outside looking in right now, but Williams has proven to be a master tourney coach.

You could argue about the late-season el foldo and whether the turtles have been playing above their heads all year long or not, but you can’t argue about the fact that Greivis Vasquez has been incredible for most of the season, highlighted by his insane triple-double against the Tar Heels. He’s the player that opponents love to hate, he’s a walking commercial for acne cream and his on-court demeanor makes Sebastian Telfair look like Jerry freaking West, but it’s still amazing what Vasquez has been able to do while still holding down a job busing tables at El Rodeo.

Can you name three other players on the Maryland team? Probably not. But Landon Milbourne, Eric Hayes and Adrian Bowie have all had their moments, while bruising Dave Neal is a headhunter on picks with the ability to knock down the occasional three-pointer. They also have a Chinese kid on their bench named Jin Soo Kim (shouldn’t he have gone to Duke?), and I’ve selfishly been praying for that poor bastard to get into a game at some point. Do these players comprise enough for the Terrapins to be a factor in the ACC Tournament? Um, no. Back to the drawing board, guys … er, bad example. By the way, I’ll take a dinner especial numero ocho and a Sol cerveza, por favor, Greivis.

#8 Virginia Tech (17-13 overall, 7-9 in the ACC)
I once had a begrudging respect for Seth Greenberg. I liked the way that he stood up to ACC officials, got tossed out of Cameron Indoor Stadium, and took his crew of perpetual underdogs up against the big boys and fought them tooth and nail. (Also, State used to beat VT like a rented mule, so that made it a little easier to like the Hokies). But then Greenberg turned into a Jewish love-child of Coach Krazooski and Paul Hewitt, started to look disturbingly like Jerry Tarkanian, and started to bring every thug in a 200-mile radius to Blacksburg.

Losing six out of seven down the stretch should pop VT’s NCAA bubble yet again, but this is still a pesky, dangerous team. The Hokies have three of the most underrated players in the ACC in A.D. “older than Che Guevara” Vassallo, Malcolm “In the Middle” Delaney and “Biggest Loser” winner Jeff Allen, and the 52 points that trio puts up per game will likely keep VT in each and every matchup they have in the ACC Tournament.

The dropoff is huge after those three, so do they have the depth to sustain a longer tourney run? The only thing you can count on for sure is that the Hokies will scratch, claw and fight, and Greenberg will spend most of the game cursing out referees in both English and Hebrew as assistants scurry to try to make him aware of the score of the game. Virginia Tech is a hard school to like under any circumstances, but Greenberg’s act is getting more than a little old and makes it way too easy to root against his squad.

#9 Miami (18-11 overall, 7-9 in the ACC)
Most were ready to anoint Frank Haith as the ACC’s next great coach prior to this season, but the Hurricanes slid from grace early in the season and could not never quite get into a rhythm. Three overtime losses severely damage their chances for an NCAA bid, so this is a team that knows it needs a compelling run in the ACC Tournament in order to have a legitimate shot to go dancing.

Jack McClinton wears more eyeliner than Richard Alpert from “Lost,” and that combined with his incredible number of tattoos makes him look more than a little like a black Kat Von D. But—he’s the most dynamic offensive force in the ACC, is in range from anywhere in the gym and hasn’t missed a free throw in about 15 years. Also, there’s no way you can prove to me that center Dwayne Collins isn’t 43 years old. He’s the Danny Almante of the ACC and he’s going to have rickets before he “graduates,” but he’s a double-double waiting to happen at all times.

James Dews, Brian Asbury, Lance Hurdle and Adrian Thomas have all had their moments, while Jimmy Graham is the ultimate elbows-and-garbage man, giving Haith a lot of different options for a lot of different styles. Miami plays a good enough zone defense to give some teams problems, but they too often play selfish, one-on-one basketball and don’t look like a cohesive unit. Can Haith get through to them for long enough to win a few in Atlanta and steal a tourney berth? It says here that if he hasn’t done it by now … shit ain’t happenin’.

#10 NC State (16-13 overall, 6-10 in the ACC)
The Pack’s logo should be changed from a wolf to an apple turnover, because turnovers have crippled the Wolfpack all season long. And wouldn’t you know it, just when Javy Gonzalez starts to find some stability at the point guard spot, upperclassmen Courtney Fells and Brandon Costner decide to disappear. Granted, Fells has a severe groin injury that’s likely to limit him in the ACC Tournament, but even before that, he seemingly hadn’t made a meaningful basket in a month. Despite all that, NC State has actually improved over the course of the campaign.

Sophomore Tracy Smith has emerged as State’s most consistent and best player, with a low-post game highlighted by his ability to finish with contact and hit the offensive glass. Unfortunately, like Damon Thornton years before, neutralizing Smith has become the pet project of ACC refs, who call him for several imaginary travels and fouls per game. In a league that condones four-step dunks, hanging on the rim, continuation plays and all other sorts of playground-style basketball, the infatuation with Smith is mind-boggling at best.

Coach Sidney Lowe has seen his goatee go gray as he’s tried to figure out why certain players can’t dribble, others can’t shoot, others can’t pass and none want to take a leadership role. That’s why watching NC State play can be akin to watching a monkey trying to f*%k a football. Fourth-year players Fells, Costner and Ben McCauley need to play well for the Pack to have a chance, and too often, those players could combine for either 55 points or 14—you just don’t know from game to game. Lowe has enough junk defenses up his sleeve and draws up good enough offensive sets for the Wolfpack to win a game or two in the conference tournament, but a weak backcourt and a lack of passion and heart from the older players submarined State’s chances long ago.

#11 Virginia (10-17 overall, 4-12 in the ACC)
At one point this season, the Cavaliers looked like they might be one of the worst teams in the history of the ACC. But somehow, against all odds, they improved down the stretch, severely damaging the NCAA hopes of hated Virginia Tech and Maryland and even taking down Clemson in overtime. Coach Dave Leitao still appears to be in pretty big trouble in Charlottesville—especially with a pretty new arena to justify—but he deserves credit for the relatively strong finish.

Freshman Sylvan Landesberg sounds like a Swedish tour pro, but he has been tremendous as the league’s no-brainer Rookie of the Year. Mamadi Diane hasn’t improved as expected and Mike Scott is the only other double-figure scorer, but Calvin Baker, Sammy Zeglinski, Jamil Tucker and Jeff Jones have like, scored baskets and stuff. And yes, I just typed all those names, and yes, I have no idea who those kids are, and yes, that’s actually a pretty big part of the problem in Wahooland.

The Cavs would appear to be easy fodder as a first-round opponent in the ACC tourney, but if Landesberg doesn’t melt in the spotlight, Diane gets hot at the right time and *fill-in-a-UVa-player-here* contributes anything, then the Wahoos could—ah, hell, I can’t even finish that. Jumpin’ Jefferson jumpshot, they’re freakin’ toast.

#12 Georgia Tech (11-18 overall, 2-14 in the ACC)
It is hard to do less with more talent than Paul Hewitt has done this year. It’s simply hard to pull off. Taking down Miami, followed by a one-point loss to Boston College, to close out the regular season helped take some of the sting out of the Yellow Jackets’ swoon (you liked that), but there’s no excuse for GT to win only two stinkin’ ACC games this year.

Gani Lawal is an underrated force in the paint, Lewis Clinch is a streaky shooter, Alade Aminu is a factor on the interior, Zachery Peacock is a physical presence on the offensive boards, Maurice Morris is a versatile guard and Iman Shumpert is a matchup nightmare at the point. So what gives? That may not be an ACC first-division unit, but by god, those pieces should add up to more than a distant last-place finish in the league. There were rumors that a former player went into the locker room and began cursing at Hewitt’s team at halftime of a game this year for poor play. I don’t really know what to say about that. Wasn’t Michael Vick available?

Hewitt has the nation’s No. 1 prep player, Derrick Favors, coming in next year, which likely bought him another season to give it another shot in Atlanta. But Favors is a one-and-done, so what happens if GT improves to 6-10 and he bolts? Things don’t look good for Hewitt and the chronically underachieving Jackets, but an inspired tourney run in front of the home folks on your own floor would certainly help matters moving forward. But all the screaming at refs in the world isn’t going to save Tech, Hewitt … or his horrific ‘stache.

Next up ... the Scooter & Hum ACC Tournament bracket predictions!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Seeding Breakdown, Part I: The Top Six, Plus Fun With Pictures

Well, it's March, and what does that mean? The "granddaddy of all conference tournaments", the brainchild of the immortal Everett Case, the crown jewel of Tobacco Road … played in Atlanta … in a dome … that's filled to quarter-capacity … and open to the public. Yes, it's the ACC Tournament, where seasons can be defined or tossed away, NCAA bids can be won or lost, seeds can be raised or lowered, coaches can get fired or raises, NBA futures can be created or taken away, Duke cheerleaders can be mistaken for Norwegian wrestlers, UNC fans are separated with crowbars — and the guys in the Foot Locker uniforms have more power than anyone.

Every year (well, at least in 2007 and 2008), I analyze the seeding breakdowns, then I take a crack at completing the tourney bracket. Here's Part I of my breakdown, and you can check out Part II here.


#1 UNC (27-3 overall, 13-3 in ACC)
The Tar Heels still show relatively little interest in playing defense for most of the game and have a tendency to forget Tyler Hansbrough when they fall in love with the fast break, but the biggest difference this year is a healthy Ty Lawson with a jump shot. He has surpassed Hansbrough as the best player on this team, and he ensures that sensitive types like Wayne Ellington and Danny Green get the ball often enough to keep them involved. Deon Thompson remains an enigma and Tyler Zeller’s impact has been highly overblown, but beyond Bobby Frasor and Ed Davis, does this team play enough defense in Marcus Ginyard’s absence?

The story that hasn’t been written yet is how Hansbrough has turned into the league’s biggest flopper since Shane Battier. Hell, there are times I wonder if his doppelganger Will has been learning flopping techniques over at Duke while “Psycho T” helps Roy Williams “wax his Coke machine” (yes, that might be a euphemism) after practice.

As usual with UNC, their chances from here on out depend largely on how the refs elect to officiate Hansbrough. If he’s continued to allow to take four steps, launch himself into the nearest defender, scream, throw up an awkward one-hander while falling down and then walk directly to the foul line, the Tar Heels can beat anyone. If he’s officiated fairly and the other team has a strong point guard who will attack Lawson, UNC has been shown to be beatable. The bottom line is that Brokeback U. has more talent (by a lot) than anyone in the conference and they’re the odds-on favorite to cut down the nets in Hotlanta. However, Williams’s relative disdain for the conference tournament and the Heels’ unwillingness to play much “D” has to make you a bit leery.

#2 Wake Forest (24-5 overall, 11-5 in the ACC)
Midway through the conference slate, it certainly didn’t look like the Deacs would eventually rise up and steal the No. 2 slot headed into the league tourney. Exposed by NC State’s box-and-one defense, Wake demonstrated that its frantic pace could be controlled by taking away the dominant interior games of James Johnson, Al Farouq-Aminu and (to a much lesser extent) Chas McFarland. The lightning-quick backcourt of Ish Smith and Jeff Teague could penetrate, create (Smith) and finish (Teague), but when forced to shoot from the perimeter, the Demon Deacons could be had.

Toward the end of the season, Wake Forest played better on defense, dominated the boards, took better shots and had a second player burst through to join Teague in providing consistent sterling play: Johnson. The weak link on this team is L.D. Williams, who yells, screams, pounds his chest, and dunks every now and again, but is more likely to throw up an airball and then dribble one off his foot than he is to have a big impact on the game. Teague is a thug-in-the-making in the Chris Paul mold, Smith’s jumpers have broken more backboards than Jerome Lane, and Johnson is one of those 30-year-olds who looks like he should be playing for Memphis instead of Wake.

You wonder sometimes when watching the Deacs play whether they buy into defense enough and whether they are mature enough. But when they are going good, they are deep, fast and intimidating. The ultimate boom-or-bust team, Wake is the one team that could either win the whole ACC Tournament or go out meekly in the opening round against a lesser squad. Either way, the “Swiss” fans will be watching closely in their tie-dyed, wannabe-Cameron-Crazies T-shirts.

#3 Duke (25-6 overall, 11-5 in the ACC)
Similarly to Wake Forest, the Blue Devils looked like an ACC also-ran about halfway through the league year, after losing four of six in conference play. Swingman Gerald Henderson has made the leap from big-time athlete to full-blown star this season, and has paired with versatile Kyle Singler to power Duke all year long. However, the Devils have been exposed as relatively unathletic at most positions and not physical enough on the interior, putting too much pressure on Henderson and Singler to carry the load with Jon Scheyer losing his shot.

Toward the latter part of the regular season, Coach K scratched his shoe-polish encrusted head and realized he needed to shake up his backcourt. He installed little-used rookie Elliott Williams at the two, slid Scheyer over to the point and relegated perpetual dunk victim Greg Paulus even deeper onto the bench. Williams added more athleticism, length and defense, while having the ball more allowed Scheyer to better hunt his shot. Throw in a revitalized Lance Thomas and the omnipresent garbage man David McClure, and all of a sudden the Dookies had a lot more meaningful options.

Duke played well toward the end of the year, although Williams has to be cautioned not to overstep his bounds and shoot too much and Nolan Smith is still concussed after a healthy run-in with Maryland meathead Dave Neal. Singler still settles for the jump shot too much and Henderson can’t go left to save his life, but if Scheyer maintains his composure and keeps hitting his perimeter shots and if Brian Zoubek can simply stay out of his own way, the Blue Devils can be a thorn in the side throughout the ACC tourney. There’s little question that Coach K seems to recruit based on how many funny-looking white kids he can stock on one roster, but Duke is capable of overcoming a gap in athleticism for long enough to sustain a tourney run.

#4 Florida State (23-8 overall, 10-6 in the ACC)
It says here that Toney Douglas should be the ACC Player of the Year and Leonard “I’m the black Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man” Hamilton should be the ACC Coach of the Year. (It also says here that Scarlett Johansson should let me open bottles of Sierra Nevada with her cleavage while Katherine Heigl watches, so take that for what it’s worth.) But at the risk of sounding like there’s a little bit of a bias toward UNC and Duke and against the expansion ACC members … well … there’s a little bit of a bias toward UNC and Duke and against the expansion ACC members.

Regardless, the Seminoles are perhaps the best and most underreported story in the league this year, and the phenomenal Douglas is the reason why. He’s put FSU on his back and helped to put the incessant cheating in the football program in Tallahassee on the backburner, leading the ACC in scoring and finishing in the top 10 in eight other categories. He’s gotten big-time help in the form of Uche Echefu and Solomon Alabi, who are even better on the court than they would be as answers on “Wheel of Fortune.”

The questions are whether Douglas will begin to wear down from carrying such a load (he’s playing more than 37 minutes a game, on top of everything else) and whether he has enough of a supporting cast (no other FSU player averages in double-figures) to lift up the ‘Noles should his play fall off or should he experience foul trouble. The answer is probably no, but Florida State has a formula—elite-caliber lead guard, powerful front line and strong defense—that can make them a tough out in any tourney format.

#5 Clemson (23-7 overall, 9-7 in the ACC)
Seemingly for years, the Tigers have started off 16-0, hit the meat of the conference schedule and ended the season losing like eight out of 10. A similar scenario took place again this year, so what’s different and why should you pay attention? Clemson only had really one head-scratching loss this year (in overtime at Virginia) and despite being swept by Florida State and losing at home to Virginia Tech, appeared to be steadier and more well-rounded than in years past.

Trevor Booker is going to get screwed out of first-team All-ACC honors, and that’s a shame, because the kid is a forking beast. A walking double-double, he’s added a midrange game to his frightening forays to the hoop and nightly attempts to rearrange rims all over the ACC. I swear K.C. Rivers used to feed Tree Rollins in the post, but this ninth-year senior remains his streaky self, continuing to be an underrated rebounder for his size and a guy who can make teams pay from beyond the arc. Point guard Demontez Stitt didn’t quite emerge as a standout this year as many expected, but he is still a more-than-serviceable solution as the primary ballhandler.

Perhaps the biggest difference this year for the Tigers has been the surprising evolution of Terrence Oglesby, who, despite having a rather, shall we say, non-white-sounding name and looking like every kid I ever played high school basketball against, ever, has emerged as more than just a deadly three-point marksman. Add in Raymond Sykes (his whipping dreadlocks get him an extra three rebounds per game simply because no one wants to lose an eye boxing him out) and Jerai Grant down low, and you begin to see why Clemson is potentially so dangerous. Not only can they press you to death, but they finally have more offensive firepower to help them both make up deficits and put teams away. Do they have enough offensive pieces yet, though? If they can’t prove they do with this relatively favorable draw in the tourney, the window may close on coach and Lou Gossett Jr. body double Oliver Purnell.

#6 Boston College (21-10 overall, 9-7 in the ACC)
Perhaps no player in the league scares teams more in the open floor than Tyrese Rice. He’s been the most underpublicized player on the national scene for seemingly years, and even though his minutes and scoring went down a little this year, his assists went way up and he didn’t have to completely dominate the ball as much as usual. Versatile Vermont transfer Joe “Don’t Call Me Satriani” Trapani has enough of an inside-outside game to force foes to respect him, while shooting guard Rakim Sanders has broken through this year as a dangerous sidekick for Rice. If only he had Eric B. to work alongside him …

Josh Southern is a foul machine, but he’s big enough to cause problems inside, while Corey Raji does a little bit of everything for the Eagles. While freshman Reggie Jackson isn’t the straw that stirs the drink (some of you saw what I did there), he’s athletic enough to create problems as a finisher on the break and as a garbage man. No one gets more out of less than coach Al Skinner (and no one gets more teeth into one mouth than him, either), who has quietly put together yet another 20-win campaign.

One of the issues with this team is you never know which one will show up — can you think of any other squad in the land that could beat UNC and then lose to Harvard in back-to-back games? But Skinner has a lot of athletic, physical players, and any team with Tyrese Rice on it is a threat to beat any other squad on any given night in the ACC Tournament. Can Rice catch fire like Randolph Childress did years ago to lift Wake Forest to the tourney title? That’s a lot to ask, but for any single game, this is a team that you don’t want to face in a tourney setting.

Tomorrow ... part deux!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

"Did You Meet Francine Rippington Already?"

I was going to post something about Rush Limbaugh here today (seriously). Then I figgered this amounted to about the same thing.

I remember when pagers used to be awesome. That was the longest nine weeks of my life.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Limerick Friday LXXXXXXIV: When Your Party's In Limbaugh, Lean On The Fatass

A pill-popping blowhard and lush
A fatass with a brain full of mush
He's become the Republican voice of "reason"
11% likeability makes him popular during target season
Good luck finding logic when it comes to Rush

Another year come and gone for the Bears' QB hex
At least they finally get to end the error of Rex
His play was most often gross, man
Know you won't miss him most, Dan
Good luck finding a team that trades picks for big checks

Lost at sea along with much of his crew
A true Wolfpacker, through and through
Never listened to the naysayers who would yell
"You'll never make it in college or the NFL"
Corey, rest in peace as Pack Nation misses you

$97K for six months on Hamilton Isle
Best job in the world, by a country mile
Enjoy Australia and the Great Barrier Reef
Swim and eat shrimp on the barby, with beef
Blog occasionally with a Foster's and a smile

Vasquez gives Maryland fans many thrills
Plays like he's hopped up on burritos and pills
Got knocked out by a Demon Deacon
Exposed as just another greasy 'Rican
Enjoy your lifetime supply of Clearasils

"Lost" focuses on the lost-in-time angle
Stuck in 1974 is the problem to untangle
The Dharma Initiative and Hostiles have a truce treaty
The survivors don't want to board a sub to Tahiti
Watch out for the Sawyer-Kate-Juliet love triangle

Last time

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

"Fight Club" Meets "The Office"

Will Ferrell singing usually means laughs. And it's good to see Darrell from the Dunder-Mifflin warehouse branching out. Throw in a few bats, and how can it miss?