Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Reflecting on Video Games and College Basketball

Last Saturday, I participated in a video game tournament that made for a really good story and one I thought I would share with you. To preface, in January I started listening online to a sports radio show out of Nashville called 3 Hour Lunch. I spend my middays working on homework and listening to their show. Well, I found out that they were holding a video game tournament and it just so happened to take place while I was back in Tennessee for spring break from seminary. So I signed up and looked forward to it.

The tournament was held at The Score which is a video game store in Cool Springs. Not only do they buy, sell & trade games but they have places where you can play games including the "arena" which is in the middle of the store and has like stadium seating and two big screens projecting games. It was pretty cool. So I got there kinda early and just kinda hung out and looked around. It was to start around noon but didn't officially get going until around 12:15.

The rules were then laid out for the tourney. It was a single elimination tournament playing NCAA Basketball 10 on XBox360. The brackets were just like the real brackets. Each participant would draw the name of a school from a box in the order in which they signed up online. The team you drew was the team you played with. There weren't 64 participants so if there was a matchup and there weren't two participants then you got a bye. It was to be 5 minute halves on varsity and played on neutral courts.

So each person's name was called and drew a name. I was probably the 10th person or so to be called. I went up drew a name and got....East Tennessee State. Yup, a 16th seed from the Atlantic Sun Conference. I wasn't the only one who got bad draws. A lot of the ones who went early got bad draws. At the end 3 of the 4 #1 seeds finally got picked and I think only 1 of the #2 seeds. There were a lot of high seeds that were pulled.

When I first walked in, my goal was to make the Sweet 16. When I saw a lot of teenagers there, I adjusted my goal to not getting embarrassed. I found myself playing in the first round against a kid who was probably 8 or 9 years old. He was wearing a Kentucky jersey and was there with his dad who was also wearing a Kentucky shirt. Needless to say, there was irony in the kid drawing Kentucky.

So it was Kentucky vs. ETSU in round 1. And I met my first goal....I didn't get embarrassed. In fact, I ran the kid right out of the gym. Even with him having John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, me and my Bucs beat the Wildcats and advanced into the 2nd round. How do you ask? Well I did the only thing I could do with a team that wasn't that talented or had great 3 point shooting, I played an up-tempo game and ran, ran, ran. I would get a rebound and sprint down the court and get a layup. I'd inbound the ball and get it to my point guard, who happened to be my best player, and just went coast to coast with a layup. He couldn't ever stop it so I kept doing it. I was like, well if it works, keep doing it.

So, I got one win. I was happy and waited around until the next time I played. In the 2nd round I matched up against Texas. This was an interesting matchup as I was going against one of the hosts of the show, Brent. He had never played the game and so during the loading time, he asked me a few questions and I told him what to do (like what's the shoot button, what's the pass button, etc.). This was a tough game as he got ahead on some quick buckets. But I just went with the same gameplan as in the 1st round and it worked according to plan. I sped up the game and in the end pulled out another victory. 2-0 for ETSU and onto the Sweet 16.

So I made my original goal, at least make it to the Sweet 16 and I earned it with two victories. Now I had a matchup with Temple. This game was with one of those many teenagers that were running around. I was kinda worried but I was like, I'm playing with house money, I got nothing to lose. So again, played same up-tempo style...and it worked again. I got so far ahead that in the game the fans started chanting "Warm up the bus". 3-0 and onto the Elite 8

It was getting nervous time as I got ready to play in the Elite 8. I went up against a guy who had West Virginia. This was going to be hard because 1) he was a good player and 2) he had a talented team. So I had to buckle down and play well. In the first half I got ahead but then went cold and he was head by a point at half. In the second half I got down at one time by 6. I then switched up how I was playing defense and that coupled with him missing shots crawled back into the game. With 8 seconds left, I was down by two. I went the length of the court and tied it up with 3 seconds left. He then inbounded the ball went the length of the court and hit a shot at the buzzer to win the game. It was a tough way to lose but in gracious fashion I shook his hand and congratulated him on the victory. He later ended up winning the the whole thing so I lost to the champ.

In the end, I didn't do too bad. I took East Tennessee State, a 16th seed to the Elite 8. I was the highest seed to advance to the Elite 8 and did so winning 3 games with no byes. I was even complimented on two occasions including the guy who beat me as saying that I was "one of the best ones here". And though I didn't win a prize, I did a pretty good job and I have a great story to tell.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Reflecting After First Weekend of March Madness

I can safely say that this first weekend of March Madness is probably one of the craziest in my lifetime (30 years). The first day alone saw buzzer beaters, overtime, upsets galore and lots of excitement. Most of my brackets are busted (thanks to Northern Iowa's win), the only ones that aren't are homer brackets (meaning go UT and U-Dub!). Several things that stood out this weekend...

*The two teams I root for made it to the Sweet 16 and potentially could make the Final Four. Going into the tourney I thought only one had that chance (U-Dub) but Tennessee played well their first two games and were helped by upsets in the toughest region. Both will face the #2 seeds in the Sweet 16 but don't be surprised if these two underdogs make the Final 4

*A new phrase has joined the English language..."Going sharpie". This was coined by CBS analysits Greg Anthony and Seth Davis on their tweets. It means a team is pretty much going to win so they write in permanent marker on their brackets (Sharpie). I like the phrase. I will say college roomates and I did something like this as a tradition starting back a decade or so ago (wow...can't believe it's been that long ago). Instead of a Sharpie, we used highlighters to mark our brackets we had posted on our living room wall. Orange or Yellow= correct pick, Green or Pink=incorrect pick. So if you hear me using the phrase "going sharpie" now you know the context.

Hopefully next weekend will live up to the standard that the first weekend set. If it does, then it should be a doozy of a weekend.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Reflections on March Madness 2010

It's Wednesday and it's the eve of March Madness. The next four days starting tomorrow is one of my four favorite days of the year, especially Thursday and Friday. I love watching the tournament and the excitement that comes with it. I have filled out brackets but before breaking down the brackets, here's some random reflections on college basketball.

*I'm not the first to say that the selections committee did a not great job and I won't be the last. It's a tough job but they could've done better than stacking the Midwest region with the overall #1 seed and the East with the #2 seed and making the South and West lighter. Also, Tennessee should've gotten higher than a 6th seed in the Midwest, you beat the #1 and #2 overall teams in the country and that gets you only a 6th seed in the toughest region?

*With all the talk about raising the amount of teams to 96 and such...I'm neither for nor against that yet. I will say this, if I was running the show this is what I would do. I would make the 31 automatic bids the top seeds (so roughly 1-7 or 8 seeds). That way A) it doesn't penalize the teams that won their way into the tournament like the mid-major schools and B) you still have the top teams in the top conferences as the 1 or 2 seeds because typically if they're that good they'll win their conference tournament. You then have your remaining 34 at large teams be the lower seed 8-16 with the last two "bubble" teams play in the play-in game. Of course that will never happen but it's a nice thing to think about.

*One thing that I have been reminded of in recent weeks is something that I talked about a while back in one of my video posts. I talked about how at least I am trying to talk positively about the teams I root for and not talk negatively about teams that are rivals or those I don't necessarily like. And for the most part, I've done a good job. If my team has won, I was excited and said great things about my team but I didn't denegrate the other team. If my team lost, I said they put up a good effort and gave the winning team their due. What has disappointed me is that I've seen, read and heard those friends of mine who haven't done that. They have made it a point to say bad things about the other team for no reason it seems like. Case in point. I have several friends who root for Kentucky. In the last few weeks when Tennessee played them in basketball, they made it a point to make snarky (a word I use sometimes that means like a sarcastic putdown) comments both when Kentucky lost and when they won. I don't know why they felt they had to say those things, maybe they're around Tennessee fans who make those kind of comments around them and they feel they need to respond in kind, I don't know. I know my tendency deep down is to respond like that if people are saying those kind of things and I kinda wanted to respond to them like they were responding but instead I thought about what good that would do and instead chose to say good things both about my team and theirs. I think definitely those who are pastors and ministers like myself need to be reminded that our words do mean something and they have an impact like our actions, and that includes being a sports fan. One cannot separate being a fan and being a follower of Jesus, because it's all wrapped into the person God has made you and called you to be. I'm not perfect in this but I'm trying and hopefully that will end up being edifying to God.

Now...onto the brackets. Just like last year I filled out 14 brackets (10 on ESPN, 3 on Facebook and 1 on Yahoo). I went with a variety of ways of filling out the brackets. Some were scientific (Strength of Schedule, Average of RPI and Strength of Schedule, Records vs. Top 25) and some were simply not scientific (Mascots, Numbers out of a Hat, Completely Random, First Impressions). Here are some thoughts on the brackets:

*I'm not buying some of the easy upset picks that a lot of the "experts" are going with, and not just because I'm a Tennessee guy. I don't think Tennessee or Vanderbilt will be upset. In fact, I think Vandy will be a sweet 16 team. Some sleeper teams I'm picking are Utah St., Washington, Minnesota and Cornell.

*I have seen a lot of Big 12 games living in Kansas City. It is a tough conference and Kansas is a very tough team. They have talent + experience which to me is a deadly combination. I think a lot of people think that Kentucky is the top team like a lot of other people think Kansas is the top team. I've seen both teams and there's no question, Kansas is better. Kentucky does have talent but Wall is too much of a kamakaze point guard who has a propensity to turn the ball over and have a Kobe Bryant mentality of shooting shots. Cousins is a player who could just as easily take his team out of a game as well as keep them in it with his attitude. Their best player to be honest is Bledsoe. When you're top three players are all freshmen, I do think that's not a formula for tournament success (see Michigan in 1993 with Fab 5). Kansas has the depth and talent with Collins, Aldrich, and the Henry twins. Along with that talent they have experience with Collins and Aldrich being seniors. That will play a factor to me as the tourney goes on.

I have two brackets in which I'm thinking are my best. In my first bracket I have in my final four: Kansas, Kansas State, West Virginia and Villanova and in my second bracket I have the same with the exception being Baylor instead of Villanova. I have in the championship game in both brackets Kansas and West Virginia with Kansas taking the title.

Good luck to everyone filling out the brackets and hope you enjoy watching some basketball!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

2010 Major League Baseball Predictions

Spring is almost here and so it's time for predictions for MLB. Of course these predictions are purely mine and are a mix of what I'd like to see and what I think, which means there's definitely room for error.

AL East:
Boston (division winner)
NY Yankees
Tampa Bay

AL Central:
Chicago White Sox (division winner)
Kansas City (wild card)

AL West:
Seattle (division winner)
Anaheim (LA) Angels

NL East:
Philadelphia (division winner)
Atlanta (wild card)
NY Mets

NL Central:
St. Louis (division winner)
Chicago Cubs

NL West:
Arizona (division winner)
Los Angeles
San Francisco
San Diego

ALCS: Seattle vs. Chicago White Sox
NLCS: Philadelphia vs. St. Louis
World Series: Seattle vs. Philadelphia
Champs: Seattle

AL MVP: Justin Morneau
NL MVP: Albert Pujols
AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez
NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay