Tuesday, March 27


Like the Wu-Tang Clan or a broken condom, Deshaun “Tank” Thomas ain’t nothing to fuck with. While Jared Sullinger gets all the media praise and was named the East region’s MVP, it’s clear to those that actually watched the games that Thomas is the biggest reason the Buckeyes are heading to New Orleans, though Sully’s tournament average of 18 points and 8 boards is certainly nothing to sneeze at. Thomas got off to a blazing start, scoring 31 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in Ohio St’s route of Loyola, then followed that up with 18 and 7 against Gonzaga, 27 and 7 vs. Cinncy, and 14 and 9 in last Saturday’s Elite Eight game against Syracuse.

While OSU hasn’t looked flawless this postseason (we’ll get to their atrocious start to the second half in the Cincinnati game in a minute), they have played very solid all-around basketball, and frankly were pretty clearly the better team in each of their first four matchups. The Buckeyes opened the tournament with a 78-59 pasting of 15th seeded Loyola (MD) before facing their first real test in round two against #7 Gonzaga. Sullinger picked up his second foul with 9 minutes to play in the first half, and spent the rest of the frame on the pine. I disagreed with the tactic to sit the big fella for the duration of the half, but I’ve been to less Final Fours than Thad Matta has so I guess I’ll defer to his strategy. Lucky for Ohio St, Bulldog big man Robert Sacre also found himself in some foul trouble and on the sidelines for much of the first half as well. Aaron Craft's phenomenal play (finishing with 17 points, 10 assists, 3 steals) kept the Buckeyes on top at the break.

A rested Sullinger came on strong to start the second half and when the Buckeyes went up 58-48 I was breathing pretty easily. But the Zags came storming back and tied the game with just over four minutes to play after a 13-3 run. Sullinger wouldn’t let them gain the lead however, as he put down two sweet-looking baby hook shots while the Buckeye defense clamped down and held Gonzaga scoreless on their next five possessions to clinch a seven-point victory and third consecutive appearance in the Sweet 16.

The 6th seeded Bearcats of Cincinnati were awaiting the Buckeyes in Boston, and Ohio St jumped all over them in the first half to take a 12-point lead into the break, mostly on the shoulders of Tank Thomas and Jared Sullinger. The two Buckeye big men completely dominated in the paint, grabbing numerous offensive rebounds and scoring at will. The game looked to be pretty well in hand, then Ohio St came out of the tunnel and offered up 9 minutes of the dumbest basketball I have ever seen them play. They took stupid shots, committed stupid turnovers, and picked up stupid fouls. Cincy took full advantage, going on a 27-11 run during this time to gain a four-point lead, causing Matta to take a timeout and really lay into his players in the huddle.

This must have woke up the Buckeyes, as they responded with a 17-1 run of their own and basically put the game away. Sully and Tank combined for 49 of the team’s 81 points to lead the Bucks to a 15-point victory and a date with top-seeded Syracuse in the Elite Eight.

Ohio St’s win over the ’Cuse wasn’t pretty, but they punched their ticket to New Orleans and that’s all that matters. The referees were waaaay to quick to blow the whistle in this one, as each team was called for several fouls that they should not have been, and the flow of the game was constantly interrupted. Sullinger found himself in an all-too-common precarious position, picking up his second foul just a mere six minutes into the game. The first was a charge that was borderline, and the second led to a three-point play that was just comical. As he did in the Gonzaga game, Coach Matta elected to sit his All-American for the remainder of the half. Freshman Amir Williams provided some real quality minutes when Sullinger’s replacement, Evan Ravenel, also picked up two quick fouls. With Jared only seeing the court for six minutes and the Buckeyes turning the ball over seven times and shooting only 30%, I think they had to be thankful to be tied at 29 at intermission.

Quite simply, Syracuse had to take advantage of Sullinger on the bench and they did not - that’s really what this game came down to. Because when the second half began, Sully was an absolute monster and the Orange were just overmatched and certainly missing their 7-footer, Fab Melo. The ’Cuse made a few runs to keep it close, but could never get over the hump and actually take the lead. Ohio St sank 13 of 14 from the charity stripe down the stretch to clinch a seven-point win and a trip to New Orleans and their first Final Four since 2007.

After recapping Ohio St’s tournament thus far, the theme has been pretty simple - Deshaun Thomas’ heroics and Jared Sullinger’s foul trouble. Sullinger has been unstoppable when on the court, but he has missed significant minutes due to early fouls. As I mentioned in my previous piece previewing the tournament, most of his violations are silly fouls, and that continued to be the case in these few games. He absolutely needs to stay away from these, but if he can’t I don’t think Matta can afford to sit him for such extended periods of time. In both the Gonzaga and Syracuse games where he picked up the quick two and sat the rest of the half, he didn’t get a third until late in the game and was never in any real jeopardy of fouling out, so he basically just wasted 10 minutes on the bench.

I’ve talked extensively about Sullinger and Tank’s tournament play, and want to quickly touch on the others’. Like usual, Aaron Craft has been top-notch defensively. They don’t win that Gonzaga game without him, and surely need him to keep up the defensive pressure and continue to distribute the ball effectively this weekend. Lenzelle Smith has played well, continuing to fill his role by playing solid defense and knocking down some open threes when the opportunity presents itself.

Which brings us to Will Buford. Sweet fancy Moses, Will Buford. They say it takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong, and good Lord was I wrong about Buf needing to make shots for the Buckeyes to make a run at the Final Four. 45, 31, 12.5, and 25. In addition to those being the typical IQ scores you’ll see in the michigan locker room, they also represent Buford’s shooting percentages in the four tournament games, including that embarrassing 1-8 performance against Cincinnati. For those keeping track at home, that combined 13-44 shooting comes out to a disturbing 29.5%. Not only has he not been taking the team on his back, he’s been downright pitiful.

If you choose to take an optimistic approach to these stats (I like to consider myself a glass-half-full kind of guy), you can make the case that Ohio St rather easily made it to the Final Four with their best shooter making fewer shots than some Steeler fans have teeth. If the rest of the squad can keep up their high level of play and Buford can at least be adequate, the Buckeyes are going to be a very tough out for any team.

Looking ahead to this weekend, Ohio St’s first contest will be with the #2 seed out of the Midwest region, the Kansas Jayhawks (Saturday, approx. 8:49). While Kansas is a perennial Final Four team and far from an easy W, I feel like you have to like this matchup if you’re the Buckeyes. Ohio St came up short but played Kansas tough in their regular season battle back in early December in Lawrence without Jared Sullinger. With Sully on a neutral court, I like our chances.

Deshaun Thomas will have to bring his defensive A-game, as he’ll be going at it with All-American Thomas Robinson. But if Tank (with some help from Jared) can at least contain Robinson, there isn’t really anyone else on this Jayhawk team that scares me too much. PG Tyshawn Taylor can score points in a hurry, but I have confidence that Craft will be able to limit his chances. 7-footer Jeff Withey is a shot-blocker extraordinaire, but doesn’t give much on the offensive side. The keys to this game will be basically the same as any other - Sullinger limiting his fouls and someone else (see: Tank) helping him out in the scoring column. And hey, maybe Buford will even make a shot in this one.

The other matchup offers the overall #1 seed Kentucky from the South vs. the West’s #4, Louisville, in the Pitino Bowl. Kentucky has looked pretty unbeatable so far, and all season long for that matter, so the Cardinals will definitely have their hands full.

I’d be remiss if I ended this post without of course mentioning one other tournament game - a first-rounder featuring the 13th seeded Ohio Bobcats and that school up north. brady hoke was so confused when he saw this contest because he didn’t know which school his wolverines were actually facing. D.J. Cooper and Nick Kellogg led Ohio to the upset victory, proving once again that those bitches can’t beat Ohio, whether there’s a “St” on the end of the name or not.


Monday, March 19

A great opening weekend

You can't ask for a better weekend to open the NCAA tournament than the one we just had, especially if you're someone like me from Ohio who didn't fill out a bracket and wasn't ruined by top seeds crashing. To wit:

- For the first time ever, TWO number two seeds fell to 15 seeds, and everyone likes a great upset. Everyone also kinda likes watching Duke lose, and that was part and parcel of one of those 2-15 giant killings. A #15 hadn't won a game since 2001.

- The Big 10 had a terrific weekend, going a collective 9-2 and placing four clubs (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Indiana) in the Sweet Sixteen. No other conference accomplished this.

- The state of Ohio had an AWESOME weekend, posting a perfect 8-0 mark and placing four teams in the round of 16, only the first time a state has ever done that.

- Those 9-2 and 8-0 figures don't exist independently, of course - Ohio State was responsible for two of the wins on both sides of the ledger, and for us here at FCF that's always the bottom line. Almost as thrilling is the fact that one of the Buckeye State wins and one of the Big 10 losses was courtesy of the #13-seeded Ohio Bobcats taking out the school up north, about which I posted briefly earlier today. Had Purdue pulled off their game Sunday night, the tournament would currently be 16-0 in my favor.

- Also it was 77 degrees out Saturday and it was St Patrick's Day. Everything's coming up Francis.

Finishing strong

Wednesday, March 14

Buford key to Buckeye title run

The Ohio St Buckeyes just completed another stellar regular season under Coach Thad Matta, finishing 27-7 overall with a 13-5 mark in Big Ten play. Before we look ahead to the Buckeyes’ chances in the NCAA tournament (beginning tomorrow with Ohio St tipping off at approx. 9:50 against 15th seeded Loyola (MD)), let’s briefly peek back at the season that was.

Ohio St came out of the gate like gangbusters, cruising to an 8-0 mark including a victory over Florida and a 85-63 drubbing of Duke in Value City, in what was in my opinion the most impressive one-game performance of any team all season long. Then Jared Sullinger injured his ankle, and the Bucks had their first slip of the year against a fantastic Kansas team on the road in a game where OSU was just simply overmatched without Sully, especially in the post against Naismith Award candidate Thomas Robinson. Jared missed some or all of the next four games, but Ohio St had no problems closing out non-conference play without him against sub-par competition.

The Bucks kicked off conference play with a 33-point shellacking of Northwestern before falling to an at-the-time undefeated Indiana team in Bloomington on New Year’s Eve. OSU bounced back with easy wins over the dregs of the conference (Nebraska, Iowa), then were victimized on the road yet again, this time by Illinois (before they sucked) on the back of Brandon Paul’s ridiculous career night consisting of 43 points on 8/10 three-point shooting, including the game-clincher with 30 seconds left to play.

Following the Illini loss, Ohio St went on a month-long stretch of playing their best basketball of the season. They won their next six games by an average of 14 points, including quality wins over Indiana, Wisconsin, michigan, and Purdue. At this point Ohio St was looking nearly unbeatable, that is until they welcomed Michigan St to Value City with a 39-game home win steak on the line. Despite his impressive stat line of 17 points and 16 rebounds, Sullinger looked a bit out of sync as he turned the ball over 10 times and (along with DeShaun Thomas) couldn’t seem to figure out how to stop the MSU big man trio of Draymond Green, Derrick Nix, and Adreian Payne.

The rest of the year followed this pattern, with Ohio St going back and forth from playing dominating to just solid basketball. Solid wasn’t good enough in losses to michigan and Wisconsin, but the Buckeyes capped off the regular season in stellar fashion with a win over Michigan St in East Lansing to finish with a share of the Big Ten title.

Ohio St drew the short straw and was seeded third in the Big Ten tourney, giving them a tough route to be crowned champions for the third consecutive year. (Drawing straws could literally be the way they decided the standings for all I know, as Ohio St, Michigan St and michigan all split the season series with each other. I have no clue how the tie-breaker was determined.)

The Buckeyes sailed past Purdue in the first round before just putting the boots to that school up north in the semis. I mean, it was just comical. tim hardaway jr made the wolverines’ first shot of the game, and then it was ALL Ohio St. Jared Sullinger scored the first 10 for the Bucks (he was in straight BEAST MODE all game) and OSU never looked backed. They had a 20-point lead at halftime, put it in cruise control in the second half, and still came out with a 22-point win. Boy do I love embarrassing michigan. The conference final was as expected, with Ohio St matching up with a familiar foe in Michigan St. The Spartans took the rubber match in a really hard-fought and well-played game. I’ve never had anything negative to say about Tom Izzo or his bunch, and this was no different. Ohio St played a fine game, but was just not quite good enough as MSU was the slightly better team on this day.

So to sum up, Ohio St’s 2011-12 regular season went about exactly as I expected it to. They stayed in the Top 10 and National Title contention all year, with a few slips against tough teams (mostly on the road) sprinkled in among many impressive wins. Sullinger had a slight drop off from his POY-type freshman season a year ago, but was still fantastic - averaging 17.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game while shooting 54% from the field and hitting at a notable 76% clip from the stripe. Aaron Craft was the smart, do-it-all point guard while continuing to be one of the best on-ball defenders in the nation (as evidenced by his Big Ten Defensive Play of the Year award). The only slight surprise in my book was Tank Thomas surpassing Will Buford as the team’s second scoring option. These guys are pretty much 2 and 2a behind Sully, but Thomas averaged slightly more points per game than Buf while shooting at a much higher percentage.

Which brings us to where we stand now, ready to kick off one of the most exciting and entertaining couple of weeks on the sports calendar. Ohio St earned the #2 seed in the East region, and as I stated at the beginning will face off with the Greyhounds of Loyola (MD) in the first round on Thursday evening. The Bucks open in Pittsburgh, PA, then the East’s semifinals and final will be played in Boston, so they won’t have to travel much until (hopefully) New Orleans in the Final Four.

Once Ohio St disposes of Loyola, they face the winner of #7 Gonzaga and #10 West Virginia. OSU was not granted any favors with this matchup, as I feel both of those teams were drastically under-seeded. West Virginia poses the most problems for the Buckeyes, as they have struggled with teams highlighting quality big men all year while WVU features All-American Kevin Jones (20/11 per game) and Deniz Kilicli’s beard. While West Virginia will have some haters in Pittsburgh, it will also be a short commute for the Mountaineer faithful. Whether it be Dub-V or the Zags, Ohio St will have their hands full in Round 2.

Should Ohio St make it to the Sweet 16, their most likely matchup would be with either 6th-seeded Cincinnati or #3 Florida St, two teams peaking at the right time. Syracuse claims the number 1 seed in the East, but the loss of star big man Fab Melo hurts them significantly. The biggest threats to the ’Cuse’s Elite Eight run are #5 Vanderbilt and #4 Wisconsin, both possible foes for Ohio St in the East Regional Final.

It’s easy to overanalyze these brackets when they first come out, but as Ali Farokmanesh and many others have showed us - you really have no idea how things are going to play out once the pumpkin is up in the air. Not to mention that there are dozens of quality teams in this tournament, so eventually you’re going to have to go through some studs in order to be the last team standing.

Now that I’m about to wrap things up and haven’t even touched on the title of the piece yet, I’d like to look at some keys for Ohio St to be cutting down the nets in the Big Easy three weeks from now. Obviously, Jared Sullinger is the focal point of this team and he needs to be at the top of his game for the Buckeyes to have a chance. When he’s on the court, I have no doubt he can reach his typical 18/10 line, or even a 25/15-type game when he goes into "angry-black-man-yell"form. The crucial point there being "when he’s on the court." Sully rarely battled foul trouble last season, but has struggled with it at times this year, which is probably the main cause of his slight decline. The problem with Jared’s fouls is that they’re usually not aggressive defensive fouls while attempting to block shots, but dumb fouls like sliding in to take charges or moving screens 25 feet from the basket. Evan Ravenel has done a fine job filling in for Sullinger when he has to hit the bench, but you certainly can’t count on him to win any games for you in a tight situation if Sully’s not on the floor.

As important as Sullinger and his staying out of foul trouble is for the Buckeyes, I think the vital aspect to Ohio St’s run will be the play of Will Buford. Buford has had a fine senior season, averaging nearly 15 points a game en route to climbing to sixth on Ohio St’s all-time scoring list. The problem is that he isn’t great at getting to the basket and basically relies on his jump shooting - which at times can be impeccable but he can also go cold and shoot 2-16 like he did against Kentucky in last year’s Sweet 16.

I’ve been saying basically the same thing about Buf all year - that I’ve just been waiting for him to step up and take over a game. Be a senior leader, put the team on his back and say "I’m not going to let us lose this game." I patiently waited for him to do it all season, and frustratingly watched as I (unsuccessfully) waited for him to do it in the loss at michigan. I guess I wanted an Evan Turner-esque moment, and I finally got it in the regular season finale against Michigan St when Buford dropped 25 on the Spartans, including the game-winner in the final second.

It might be unfair of me to put this kind of pressure on Buford. Maybe he’s simply not as talented as ET (I mean, who is?) and he can’t possibly live up to the expectations I have set for him. While that is a very real possibility, it does not bode well for Buckeye fans if that’s true. Because they don’t have the ball in their hands enough, it’s hard for big men to take over a game. If Ohio St is in a close call late in the game in the coming weeks, it will be difficult for the Bucks to work solely through Sullinger. Someone else will need to step up and knock down some shots, and I’m banking (read: praying) that William Buford can be that guy.


Brady's Bracket

Here's what I imagine the NCAA draw looked like to the "football" coach from the school up north (click to enlarge):

Monday, March 12

Downtown Report before the Madness

A while ago, I ranked the months of the year for sports fans and March only came in 9th. With as much excitement as is currently going on, especially in the world of hoops perhaps I need to revisit that low placing. Or maybe sports is just that good that even a solid month like this doesn't quite measure up.

This past weekend was a very good one for fans sharing my rooting interests, which I assume includes you, the reader. Friday saw the Cavs knock off the juggernaut Thunder in Oklahoma City and the Buckeyes pull away late from Purdue in the Big 10 tourney, while Akron and Ohio advanced to the MAC final. Saturday saw Ohio State absolutely paste a hapless michigan club and the Bobcats claim the MAC tourney crown. It's halftime right now of the Big 10 Championship game between the Buckeyes and the Michigan State Spartans, and I've already seen the Pittsburgh Penguins clobber the Boston Bruins today. It's been solid. Let's go a little more in depth.

Big MAC Attack
Ha, more like big hack attack with that kind of punnery.

The Mid-American Conference tournament was once again held in the Q here in Downtown Cleveland - I'd hoped to attend the semifinal games on Friday night but unforeseen circumstances kept me away. Nevertheless, I caught the last two Akron games on TV and was happy with the overall result. Ohio edged Akron by a point in Saturday's final to claim their second MAC title in three years (the 2010 one also at the Zips' expense). My Mom went to Akron and my sister and Bucko went to Akron, so I couldn't have hand-picked a better championship.

Even more broadly speaking, what I like best is the utter domination of this event by Ohio schools in this and recent years. Ohio schools have claimed the past eight championships (three for Ohio, two each for Akron and Kent State, one for Miami) despite comprising just half of the conference's membership. Look at the 2012 bracket below to see the damage the teams from the Heart of It All inflicted on the rest of the league. Three of the four semifinalists were from the Buckeye state, and Bowling Green was the only one of the six eliminated by a team outside of the state. Thanks for coming out, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois schools. And while I'm here, hey Central Michigan, guess what, Carnegie Mellon still has cmu.edu and you're never going to get it.

I realize this is a bit off-topic for the usual interests of this blog, but I'm a big fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins and things have been really good for the Flightless Fowl of late. Even without Sidney Crosby for 60 games this season, the Penguins have rattled off nine straight and puled to within two points of the East-leading Rangers. Today I got to watch them pummel the Bruins, and I think we all appreciate the enjoyment of seeing a Boston team go down in flames. The hockey playoffs are always really quality action, and it's so much better when one has a rooting interest.

The Cavaliers have settled into a fairly comfortable mediocrity, hanging around the playoff conversation but never really giving you the sense that they'll grab one of the East's lower seeds. I think the playoff experience would be good for a young team, but not essential for their development, which will still take a few more years.

After a recent six-game skid, the Cavaliers pulled off a highly surprising two-game road sweep in Denver and Oklahoma City and finished off the weekend with a high-scoring home win over the Houston Rockets. Seriously, who saw that coming? The keys to the trip, and any recent successful play by the Cavs, have been Kyrie Irving and Antawn Jamison, especially with Anderson Varejao still sidelined. Irving saves his best for last, notching 10 points in the 4th including the game-winner against Denver and making a series of clutch drives and finishes to stave off the Thunder two nights later. Oklahoma City was a ridiculous 17-1 at home coming into the game, and the Cavaliers simply outplayed the home Thunder to spring the upset. It wasn't some sort of fluky shooting performance (OKC hit on 49% compared to the Cavs' 42%), and they only got 30 combined from Irving and Jamison. They just took care of the ball, rebounded, and outworked the Thunder on D. Simple as that. Coach Byron Scott deserves a lot of credit, I think, for the mentality he's installed to the team, even if it does occasionally waver.

I gotta get me down to the Q again soon to see Kyrie and the gang. Speaking of #2, I heard a great radio promo he did for The Alan Cox Show: "Hi, this is Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and you're listening to a show I've never even heard of, The Alan Cox Show." Brilliant.

Responses to the Redskins trading with the Rams to nab the #2 spot in the upcoming NFL Draft, presumably to choose Baylor QB Robert Griffin III, elicited a lot of response in the Cleveland sports community, including a total freak-out from The Cleveland Fan's twitter feed because the Browns didn't trade up.

My take: three first-round picks and a second-rounder is too much. And that's all I have to say on the matter.

The Big 10 Championship game just ended, and as you undoubtedly know, OSU wasn't able to capture their third straight Conference Tournament crown, falling to a very good Michigan State squad today. On the bright side: michigan has NEVER won the Big 10 Basketball tournament (their '98 "win" was vacated).

Who decided that all the Big 10 Championships need to be contested in Indianapolis?

It certainly would have been a nice trophy to add to the shelf, but the stakes of today's game were mitigated by the fact that OSU was probably locked into a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament regardless of the outcome of today's contest. Plus, I'm not going to sit here and complain about a 27-7 season, a share of the Big 10 regular-season championship, and a runner-up finish in the tournament. Another outstanding season for Thad Matta and his Buckeyes. All Matta has done in eight seasons at the helm is go 215-63 and lead the team to five regular-season Big 10 titles, three tournament championships, two Sweet Sixteens, and a National Runner-up.

And now, of course, we focus on the NCAA Tournament. I have fewer teams than in some past years - Ohio and Ohio State are my two where past years included Pitt, Akron, and Cleveland State - but the tourney is always a good show. A couple of thoughts here on the event:

1) The "going dancing" and "Big Dance" thing has to go. It's played. It isn't a dance. It's a basketball tournament. No one is going dancing. They're playing basketball.

2) Hey NCAA, please stop calling those two play-in games the "first round" and the actual first-round games the "second round." It's ridiculous, and you're only confusing people. Call it the Preliminary Round or something. You have to see how stupid this is.

3) During the annual monstrously self-righteous hand-wringing about the BCS system for college football, this tournament is always held up as a paragon of the "right way" to determine a champion. Indeed it is a positive that the basketball championship is contested in a much more politics-free manner, but is it really the best way to have the best team win the title? Do we like that a team can work all year and lose to a hot-shooting mid-major who they'd beat 9 out of 10 times? Granted, that's exciting, but it lacks the fairness of a series system like the NBA and NHL have. Such a system would be improbable for college hoops, but before genuflecting too much before the NCAA basketball tournament, let's recognize that it's not an optimal way for the best teams to contest for the crown.

4) I'm not filling out a bracket this year, and not just because I'd rather keep that $10 in my pocket (I would've cashed in big two years ago had Baylor toppled Duke in their Regional final). I'm doing so because I prefer to enjoy the games and choose my rooting interests independent of a group of haphazard predictions I've made.

Plus, I think that filling out brackets encourages some bad fan behaviors. One of them is telling other people who you did or did not have in your bracket. NO ONE CARES ABOUT ANYONE ELSE'S BRACKET. We really don't. It also produces this phenomenon where people root strongly for a particular team solely because they've picked that team, whereas I may have a legitimate interest in that school. It's so fucking annoying when I'm psyched for an OSU game and I have to hear some jackass rooting for Gonzaga or some shit over the Buckeyes just because of their stupid bracket. Weak. So no bracket for me again, just basketball.

5) President Obama: you are a busy man. Do not spend any of your valuable time filling out a women's bracket. It's totally irrelevant.

6) I'll once again reiterate my St Patrick's/NCAA tournament proposal, even though I don't expect it to gain much traction. I base it on three facts:

1) The tournament costs employers $1.8 billion in lost productivity.
2) No one knows for sure that St Patrick was born on March 17, and we observe other birthdays (King Jr, President's Day) on days other than the actual known date.
3) There are no major holidays on the calendar between MLK and Memorial, by far the biggest gap in the calendar.

So let's be smart. The third Friday of March is St Patrick's Day and it's a Federal Holiday. Employers can condense the productivity losses from those two days into one day, workers get a day off during the February-March-April stretch, and everyone gets to watch the games. Who loses?

Guess what, you guys? Baseball is coming back!

I love the rhythm of sports here - just as the NCAA tournament excitement is dying down baseball kicks right in. FCF and a cast of thousands are bucking past year trends in 2012 and skipping the Opening Day game. Why? So we can go to the second game, which is on a Saturday and should offer more open seats both at the bar and at the game. I'm already psyched.

Thursday, March 1

Who scored the goal?

This picture that I currently have residing in my house (on the floor, like all of my artwork) has inspired countless discussions in the 12 years or so since I inherited it from my old housemate Chuck. It's a simple question: who scored the goal? Take a look and we'll discuss below the fold.

I should preface my comments by saying that, despite all the disagreement the question has sparked, I believe there to be a definitive answer. Six years ago, a friend of mine named Jason looked at it for the first time and delivered a perspective so irrefutable that I declared right on the spot that he was absolutely correct and that there could be no further debate on the topic. Naturally, I promptly forgot that argument, and we're left with more and more speculation.

I think it's fair to rule out the possibility of an own-goal (though perhaps the White defender or goalie may have tipped the puck). The white motion line near the goalie's mitt shows that the puck had considerable momentum on its way to the back of the net, so it's not like he pushed it over the line or anything, and unless #4 is highly vindictive because the netminder is sleeping with his wife or something, he can be absolved as well. So we're left with the three Yellow players.

Looming large in the front of the illustration is #18. Of the three attackers, I think he's the least likely candidate, even though he's closest to the net and seems to be the focus of #4's defensive efforts. However, given his location of his body and stick relative to the travel of the puck and its current location, I don't think he's going to get credit for this tally. It's possible he took a backhand swipe and poked it in (he's a lefty), but I don't see it. In fairness, the white lines and the puck don't correspond particularly well, so the white lines could be ice shavings or something, but they sure look like motion lines to me.

The best case that can be made for #10 as the goal-scorer is a spatial one. His location relative to the puck's is exactly what one would expect had he taken a shot (he's a lefty as well) from the right wing and gone to the far side of the net, and had his momentum carry him past the goal line. The knock on the #10 argument is that the motion lines don't correspond well to his shooting angle (though we've raised some questions about those lines already) and the goalie's sliding dive to the right is highly uncharacteristic for a shot taken from such an angle.

"The Captain," as Milkey always calls him even though the "C" on his sweater is pretty clearly the crest of Team Yellow rather than the captain's insignia, seems to me the most likely goal scorer, but his case is far from air-tight. From where he's standing, he certainly could have put puck to twine in the manner we see in the snapshot, and a pass from #10 could have the goalie sliding to his right to defend a shot taken from the center of the attacking zone.

Yet I don't quite see why the goalie has gone down to the ice, where a lateral skate could have positioned him better for a shot from #16; his desperate layout seems more intended to stop a tap-in from #18.

The most damning thing about #16's case is his body position. He's a right-handed shot, so we'd fully expect to be looking at his back had he taken a forehand shot. There's no way he took a pass from the right wing, one-timed it home, and made a random 180 to face us. He could have backhanded a pass from the left wing (out of frame), but that's totally incompatible with the goalie's actions.

As usual, I'm stymied by the ambiguity of the scene. What do you think?