I managed to get in a pair of games in St. Paul the next week, which was a hop, skip and a jump compared to the other two. Granted, this assignment came with about three hours notice and I arrived in time for the second half of the first game, but other than writing a crappy story for game two the night went off without a hitch. The next day, however, the Bonneville got another big job with a section final in Elk River – 35 miles away.


Once again I spoke with the AD before making the trek north and found out to my delight that wireless internet would, in fact, be available. He just had to plug it in before the game. So I show up about 15 minutes before tipoff to find precious few seats available and no power outlets in sight. Good thing I charged my batteries. I managed to talk a radio guy at the corner of the gym into letting me share his table, where I fired up the computer and managed to get the internet up and running. Again, my Outlook does not work, but by now I’m used to this. I discovered the previous night in St. Paul that my Web email actually would work as long as I did not include attachments. Apparently I have some setting screwed up, but the U of MN helpline should just be called the U of MN line, because they had no good answers for me.


Anyway, I’m treated to another pretty good game that turns out to be an upset and I throw together a solid story and accurate box score – thanks to the radio guy who announced the score one last time before signing off, allowing me to catch the fact I missed a pair of free throws in the final seconds while I was typing. With an hour to spare before deadline I open up my web browser only to find an error message. I check my wireless internet – no signal. I frantically search for the AD, who it turns out is now gone and apparently has taken his internet with him. The good news is I still have time. The bad news is, I live too far away to risk driving home to send. So I peel out of the parking lot and hit the gas on School Road, noticing as I burn through a light that there is a police officer waiting to make a left hand turn. I glance at my speedometer to see I was only going 6 mph above the speed limit and then watch in my rearview mirror as the officer slowly turns left. Fortunately, he doesn’t make it a U-turn to chase me down.


After verifying I hadn’t wet myself, I recalled that I saw a Caribou Coffee somewhere that I could use for their internet connection. So I hop on the highway in search of this place, growing more and more concerned by the second as I run out of civilization en route to the interstate. Finally, the last place before oblivion is none other than the Caribou. Unfortunately, the right-hand turn I take leads me into a trucking facility with no access to the coffee shop. I quickly turn around and get back to the stop sign and look left to see myself with five seconds to beat the oncoming traffic to double back towards Caribou. So I slam on the gas and cross the two lanes. A quick reminder: I’m way out in Elk River, so it’s extremely dark on this road. Also, I was in such a frenzy looking for a place to stop, I failed to notice that I was on a divided highway. About a half second before I would have ended up in the ditch, I realize my error and take a hard right onto the shoulder. With traffic fast approaching behind me I slam on the gas and make it to a turn-lane in time to not get rear-ended. I’m sure I was flipped off, but it was dark out so I didn’t notice.


I make it the rest of the quarter-mile without incident and pull up to the coffee shop at 8:56. I burst through the front door and find a pleasant young lady standing behind the register without another soul in sight. I whip out my wallet and ask what is cheapest on the menu, blabbing about how I figured I needed to buy something in order to use the internet. She tells me to forget about it and go ahead and hop on the information superhighway for free, but reminds me they are closing in three minutes. I once again burst into a panic-induced sweat because my stupid computer takes a good five minutes to fully boot up. But after pressing the power button I find out that I’m finally in luck. I left the gym in such a hurry that I didn’t fully power down – leaving me computer running on battery power. I send the story and confirm with the desk they’ve received everything with 30 seconds to spare.


Another young lady strolls in from the back room and thanks me for not ordering anything because she didn’t want to wash anything over again. So I leave my final two dollars in their empty tip cup, stroll back to my car with my health and vehicle still intact, and thank the high school basketball gods that March comes but once a year…

The Strib had me move on to boys hoops the next week, which had me on a trip to Rogers High School for a pair of section semifinals. Google maps informs me that this was another 26-mile one-way trip. Double true. So I called up the school’s athletics director to determine what internet source they had, if any, to allow me to send in stories on deadline. First he told me they had wireless, then he called back later and told me to bring an Ethernet cord. No biggie.


I show up at Rogers 10 minutes before tip-off because I had been handling girls state basketball duties for the AP at Target Center in the afternoon – giving me a total of four games for the day. Anyway, I find the AD and ask him to show me where I should sit so that I can use the internet. He leads me to the far side of the gym, where we actually reach the end of the bleachers and then make a right towards the wall. At this point I’m getting a little worried, and sure enough, there’s the Ethernet outlet – behind the bleachers with no way to see the court. So, I plug in just to make sure the thing is working (but fail to check my Microsoft Outlook), then take a seat for the first game. It goes off without a hitch, I write my story and fill out the box score and then head to the side of the bleachers to send between games. Suddenly, an error message pops up. I can’t send any emails. I try using the Web e-mail, and that doesn’t work either. I try to make adjustments during timeouts of the first half of the second game, but nothing works. More adjustments at halftime; no dice. So in the second half, with tension now mounting because of approaching deadlines, I must sit at the table – where I can’t see the second game I’m supposed to write about – and come up with a plan. I keep the running score thanks to the PA announcer, and I judge made and missed free throws by what side of the gym cheers after each shot. Ultimately I send my story piece-by-piece via instant messenger and get to watch the second game. But the fun isn’t over yet.

I get a quick post-game interview in and begin writing my story once the final buzzer of the second game sounds with precious minutes left before my deadline. The fans poured out of the gym quickly, leaving me seated at a table next to/under the bleachers and a handful of janitorial staff to pick up after messy high school kids and parents. As I added up my box score, points were missing. In the end it turned out I just wasn’t adding properly, but as I frantically tried to solve this problem my mind blocked out the sound of an approaching leaf blower.

A few seconds later, it is raining. Well, it isn’t literally raining, I’m still fairly dry minus the sweaty shirt. However, there are bits of dust, popcorn shrapnel, Doritos, hot dog wrappers, Skittles and myriad other disgusting basketball viewing remnants streaming down onto my head and computer. I immediately start yelling, but I’m no match for the leaf blower. So I spring out of my seat and run back with my arms waving, finally grabbing the attention of the janitor with the Ghostbuster-esque pack on his back. The man is profusely apologetic and I’m not particularly angry, but I am extremely dirty and gross and have a story to finish writing.

I’d like to say that’s the last bad thing to happen to me, but after I made the 26-mile drive back home following a long day of basketball I noticed that a light bulb in the kitchen was out. So I remove the frosted glass dome and replace the bulb and attempt to put the dome back in its place. After a small turn the dome will no longer move, so I assume it is correctly in place. Instead, it was just jammed against something. So as I stood in the kitchen for a few seconds talking to the lady friend, the glass dome springs free and drops directly onto my head. Somehow it does not shatter, instead bouncing towards my girlfriend. She got both hands on it, but it was heavier than expected and slipped out of her grasp and onto the floor, where it shattered into a million pieces. Good times.


Part III coming soon…

For most people, March Madness is a time to witness madness – a chance to fill out multiple sets of brackets, ultimately to wind up cheering for multiple teams to win the same game so that you wind up with at least one respectable finish either among your co-workers, friends, or significant other. But thanks to my seasonal employment at the Star Tribune, I’ve gone from witnessing the madness to partaking in it.


No, I’m not talking about the zenith of the college hoops season. I’m talking about high school section basketball.


I know that most of you don’t really care about high school sports, and honestly I’ve got nothing personally invested in them either – especially hundreds of miles from where I attended high school. It’s more the outlying stuff that has turned into a comedy of errors.


First, there was the trip to Delano for a pair of girls section final games. Delano High School is a 26-mile drive for me one way, so that in itself turned this from work day to adventure. Less than a half mile into my trip, a wolf ran out in front of my car without as much as noticing a speeding Bonneville headed its way. I immediately called my girlfriend, brother and sister, because although I assumed there must be wolves in Minnesota based on the NBA team’s nickname, I had never seen one. The three of them seemed much less interested than me.


The first game was uneventful, unless you are a huge fan of blowouts and one team committing two dozen unforced turnovers. For the second game, which featured a city team against a far suburban team, I found myself seated a row in front of a heavyset pale gentleman with a goatee in a grey sweatsuit, grey Twins ballcap, and hair striving to match both. The gentleman, whose daughter played for the city team, fancied himself a coach. The incessant yelling was fine, but every time something didn’t go the way he wanted, he stomped on the bench in front of him – sending reverberations up my spinal column and aggravating an already sore lower back. Not to mention, I was trying to work here! Later, as the fouls mounted up against his favorite squad, he began muttering about how the all-white/female officiating crew was racist. Fortunately, I remembered I could walk, so I got up and sat somewhere else in the second half. The ride home featured no wildlife.


Part II will be up soon…

The 12-Seed Anomaly

March 18, 2008

There are two things that every good NCAA tournament bracket-filler-outer should do immediately upon receiving their tournament layout hot off of the company copy machine each year. First, put the name of the No. 1 seeds in each region on the next line. Second, put the name of the No. 2 seeds in each region on the next line. No matter how much you like some low-level school’s mascot or team colors, it’s just not worth trying. No. 1 seeds are 100-0 all time against No. 16 seeds since the tournament increased to 64 (now 65) teams. As for No. 2 seeds, only four times in 100 games have they lost to an opponent seeded 15th – so write those in ink as well.

This brings us to step number three: the 12-versus-5 matchup. This, my friends, is where the magic happens. The spirit of the tournament lies in the upsets, the little schools outplaying the big ones, the Cinderella squads finding out that the slipper actually does fit. This pairing is always the next to consider because of its unique history.

The 12-versus-5 matchup doesn’t follow mathematical logic. Assuming all else is equal, the tournament selection committee should be able to rank and seed teams over the long run to fall in line with statistical probability. For example: a number one seed should never lose to a number 16 seed. To this point, the No. 1 seeds have won 100 percent of those games. The game between the eight and nine seeds, conversely, should for all intents and purposes be 50/50. In the history of the tournament, the record between the two sides is 54-46, in favor of the nines.

So, the winning percentage of the underdog teams (16 through nine seeds) should progress somewhat evenly from zero to 50 percent. If I’ve already lost you, it might be time to quit while you’re behind. In fact, we’d recommend calling a few of your former math teachers and clarifying how much your parents actually spent to get you through school.

The winning percentage of No. 15 seeds versus No. 2 seeds, as illustrated earlier, is 4 percent. Moving up to the 14s, they are 15-85 all time against third-seeded teams, giving them a winning percentage of 15. The 13 seeds keep the trend going, winning 21 percent of the time (21-79 overall).

Let’s skip No. 12 for now and go to 11. Against No. 6 seeds, the 11s have a winning percentage of 31 from a 31-69 overall record. And finally, the 10s beat the 7s 39 percent of the time (39-61 overall).

So, judging by those numbers the No. 12 seed should have a winning percentage around 25 percent, right? Well, the math makes sense, but reality doesn’t. With a 34-66 record all time against No. 5 seeds, the 12 seed wins 34 percent of the time – better than the No. No. 11 seeds by 3 percent.

The overall numbers have skewed in this direction in large part because of recent history – with the exception of three years ago when the No. 5 seeds went 4-0 while the No. 6 seeds split games with the 11s.

Since 1999, 12 seeds have done a better job in the first round of the tourney than 11 seeds. In the last 11 years, 12 seeds have gone 18-30 against their No. 5 counterparts, while No. 11 seeds are just 13-35 overall against the 6s. This averages to 1.6 first round victories per tournament for the 12s and 1.2 for the 11s.

Now that I’ve beaten the living daylights out of you with statistics, let’s talk strategy. Every so often its fun to throw a 13 or a 14 seed on the line to advance to the next round and see what happens. This is fine, just realize that both of those seeds average less than one victory per tournament over the last 23 years. But when it comes to those 12s, you’ve actually got to take a serious look at all four games. First, look at the trends. Find out what teams are hot heading into the tournament and what teams have struggled as of late.

The next piece of the puzzle to look at is strength of schedule – particularly late in the year. If a team has a mediocre record down the stretch, but is playing top competition, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are playing poorly. That’s where a few box scores come in handy. And just because a team is on a winning streak doesn’t mean they’ve beaten anyone of note (exhibit A this season is Butler).

Another key factor is matchups. Does one team have two quick guards that no one on the other team will be able to defend? Perhaps an opposing big man will cause some problems. Again, this is where you dig up the season schedules and look for teams similar in makeup to the upcoming opponent and see how the games went. To be quite honest, this is the way to look at any matchup. But when it comes to picking the one or two key upsets – in particular at the 12-versus-5 level – generally you can look back and find the glaring statistic after the fact that should’ve pointed you in the right direction. Finding the stats in advance is the hard part.

But don’t quit until you find at least one 12 seed you’ll put your money on the line for. The 2007 tournament marked just the second time since 1989 that at least one 12-seed did not move on to the second round. Six times in the last nine years, two or more 12 seeds have moved on to round two.

Keep in mind, however, the magic generally ends there. Of the 56 No. 12 seeds to play in the tournament since 1995, only eight have advanced past the second round into the sweet 16. Just one of those eight teams has made the elite eight. In all, 16 No. 12 seeds have made the Sweet 16 in the 25 years of a 64-team bracket (or 65), making for roughly one No. 12 in the final 16 every two years. But as stated, more recent history dictates even fewer appearances, as eight of those 15 No. 12 seeds made the Sweet 16 from 1985 through 1994 – leaving eight for the last 15 years.

Three No. 12 seeds advancing in 2009 skewed the numbers even more in the direction of the No. 12 seeds as statistical anomalies. And keep in mind, 25 tournaments isn’t a gigantic sample size. In the next 50 years, the numbers are likely to fall along a normal curve – meaning 12 seeds would have to start losing at a higher rate. But as the numbers above indicated, the 12 seeds have been the exception to the rule the last 20 years, so until they prove otherwise, there is something special about the 12 vs. 5 matchup. Be sure to take note before turning in your bracket.

Want even more seed history stats? Check out my other tourney post: https://puntingbaxter.wordpress.com/2010/03/16/more-bracket-busting-fun/

It’s Draft Season!

March 13, 2008

Almost draft day!

I’ve got a fantasy baseball draft each of the next two Saturdays and couldn’t be more excited. It’s a fresh start after a year of bad fantasy play.

Last baseball season was pretty much a nightmare. In fact, that led to a poor showing in football and basketball as I tried to overcompensate with high-risk, high-reward players, thinking I was due for a change in luck. Turns out, just one of those players turning into a bust is generally enough to sabotage fantasy hopes in any sport.

So I finally tidied up my cheat sheet yesterday and think I’m good to go. I’d divulge my sleepers, but unfortunately some of you reading this are also in my fantasy leagues. If I was getting paid for this, then I’d have no choice but to hand out such useful information. But thanks to the high quality people running a website that shall remain nameless, I am getting my paychecks elsewhere. But I will give you one piece of advice: if Hanley Ramirez is available, don’t select Derrek Lee. Had I not been a complete idiot in one of my drafts last year, not only might I have been a championship contender, I’d also be keeping Ramirez, Ryan Howard and Miguel Cabrera heading into my first draft. I really should get over that…

The best advice I can give heading into a draft is to know two things. First, know your depth charts. Fantasy magazines were printed back in January, so those are not helpful when it comes to this. Team websites are hit or miss, but I have found ESPN’s to be in pretty good shape. I hate linking to a site that everyone goes to anyway, but unfortunately in this case it’s the best. Secondly, stay abreast of injuries. Once again, the magazines you’ll pick up en route to your draft are no good for this. I find Rotowire to be a good source of this information and apparently ESPN does as well, because they wrap it up in a neat little package for you sans the fantasy spin. But really, the injury is the most important piece of information.

Oh, I just thought of one more thing – since lately I can do no right in fantasy drafts and my plan is to stick with safer, more consistent options this season, you can fully expect Randy Johnson and Mike Hampton to actually be healthy this season and supply great fantasy numbers with a late-round pick. Oh, and how could I forget Rich Harden! Chalk him up for a Cy Young. Those are the three I’ll be most tempted on, but I’m forcing myself to resist. So enjoy their stellar seasons!


March 5, 2008

– I suppose I’ll start with the Brett Favre news. I’m proud to say that despite a phone call from my mother, two e-mailed story links and unlimited access to the internet and radio today, I managed to avoid reading a single story about Favre retiring. The man is a fantastic football player, a sure-fire Hall of Famer and for many years was the bane of my existence as a Bears fan. Still, I couldn’t help to be impressed with many of the things he accomplished on the football field. But I also know how insane the world of sports journalism is these days and how over the top everything gets. So I’m proud to say I avoided all of the vomit-inducing, rainbow and lollipop, brown-nosing, kiss-ass writing that I’m sure was out there today. Hi-five to me!

– I had two job interviews today. Another hi-five to me! This job-searching stuff has been mostly responsible for keeping me from mass blogging. My apologies if it has upset you. I’m 100 percent certain that no one noticed.

– Last week (or maybe the week before) the Wolves bought out Theo Ratliff‘s contract so that he could then go sign with the Detroit Pistons. I cared little. Then the Clippers bought out the contract of Sam Cassell and he became a Celtic immediately upon clearing waivers.  For some reason, I was pissed.

That’s not to say I’m anti-Boston, although sometimes I feel like I might be. But really, I would like to see Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen earn championship rings. Perhaps adding Cassell (and P.J. Brown, in case anyone missed that) is the final piece necessary in order to conquer the NBA Finals in August or whenever the hell they happen these days. And I’m certainly not anti-Cassell. In fact, he, Shaquille O’Neal and Reggie Miller are the only three NBA players whose replica jerseys have at some time hung in my closet. I guess my issue here is that I don’t agree with veterans getting to complain about where they are at in order to go somewhere with a better chance at winning. As professionals, shouldn’t they honor their inflated contracts? Thing is, its not really their fault. As long as the contract buyout process remains as is, things will probably get worse. How about this — any player whose contract isn’t bought out. Late-season arms races would then become impossible, making teams use the pieces they started with to make a final push. This is even more feasible now with the NBA D-League, as teams that suffer injury troubles have a larger talent pool. Sure, there aren’t any D-League point guards who can help out a squad the way Cassell can, but at least these players can develop in a system and fill in seamlessly when necessary.