A Formidable Final Four

With Kansas squeaking by Davidson 59-57 Sunday afternoon, all four top seeds are in the Final Four for the first time in NCAA history.

It’s a fitting year for this historic development though, because these four teams—Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina and UCLA—have dominated college basketball all season long.

So far, they have combined for a record of 143-9, and have owned the polls as much as they have owned their opponents.

In my admittedly woeful bracket, I have Kansas and UCLA meeting in the National Championship game with the Jayhawks coming out on top, but right now, that doesn’t look too promising.

As good as Kansas and UCLA are, neither seem to be playing their best right now, with Kansas struggling against a 10-seed and UCLA having several close calls dating back to the close of the regular season. On the other hand, North Carolina and Memphis have been demolishing good teams.

I still think Kansas has the best starting five in the country, and that if they can pull it together they can beat UNC or anyone else, but one thing’s for sure: it should be a fun Final Four.


Political Leanings And April 15

Tuesday night was the last night in what has been a drawn out process of doing my taxes for this year.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I’m generally apathetic or ambivalent about a lot of political topics, and paying taxes is one of them.

For most of the year, my feelings are mixed—I realize that taxes help pay for important things like education and road maintenance, but at the same time am annoyed at how much of my paycheck goes to the government.

However, when it comes time to file my taxes, my feelings quickly polarize.

The first few years I had to file taxes, I never had enough withheld, and always ended up having to write a sizable check to the IRS. When this happened, I would basically become a libertarian—Taxes are too high! Why do I even have to pay taxes at all? I should be able to spend my money how I want to! After all, the government didn’t earn my paycheck, I did! Why do we even need a federal government?

Then, a couple of years ago, I basically broke even. I owed a little bit to the state of Arkansas, but I got a little back from the Federal government. That was okay, if a little anti-climactic.

Last year, I think I got $300 back, and I was pumped. It was like Christmas! And my opinions changed sharply—Of course taxes are a good thing! I can afford to give some money to the government for the greater good! How could we even function without a federal government? Wasn’t it Thomas Hobbes who said in Leviathan that without government individuals would be in a state of constant conflict and our lives would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”?

So I know what you’re wondering: how did my taxes come out this year? I’m getting almost $800 back.

That’s right; for the next week or so, I’m basically a socialist.

Note to readers: My understanding of taxes, while admittedly limited, is not as simplistic as this post might make you believe. Please refrain from informing me in your comments that whether or not I receive a refund doesn’t actually justify or condemn the current tax system.


Saying So Long To Six Seniors

Due to some technical problems with my blog and a general level of busy-ness on my part, it has been a while since I’ve posted anything. I will try to make up for that this week.

On Sunday, while I was riding a bus on the way home from Nashville, the North Carolina Tar Heels were mercilessly ending the season of my beloved Arkansas Razorbacks.

It didn’t really come as a surprise that Arkansas lost to the overall number one seed of the NCAA Tournament, but at the same time, I wasn’t expecting a 31-point blowout either.

In addition to ending the Hogs’ season, the second-round loss also signified the end of the collegiate careers for six Arkansas players—Gary Ervin, Steven Hill, Vincent Hunter, Charles Thomas, Darian Townes and Sonny Weems.

On the whole, this group of seniors was rarely embraced by the Razorback faithful and were more often written off as overrated, inconsistent and soft. In reality, the 2008 Senior Class was a group of individually talented but flawed players who from time to time combined to create a formidable whole.

Vincent Hunter, a fifth-year senior, arrived on campus in 2003 built like a toothpick. His physique never changed, which likely contributed to his injury-plagued career, and as he found himself surrounded by more talented big men, his minutes declined each year. Nevertheless, the elder statesman of the 2008 senior class did come in to spell the other big men this season, and could occasionally be counted on the block a shot, hit a three, or knock down a couple of free throws (which is saying a lot when your team is ranked 200 and something nationally in free throw percentage).

Hill, Thomas and Townes all came in together as freshmen in the 2004-2005 season, and if you could combine them into one player, you’d probably wind up with the best center in the country.

Darian Townes was, at times, an offensive machine inside. He only possessed about two offensive moves, but on a good day, that was enough to make him unstoppable from about six feet in and put constant pressure on the other team’s interior defense. Unfortunately, Townes was generally a defensive liability and sometimes seemed to play without effort. After a promising freshman season, Townes spent his sophomore and junior seasons losing playing time and gradually turning the Arkansas fans against him before he turned things around his senior season and possibly played his way into an NBA career.

On the other side of the coin from Townes was Steven Hill. At 7’1”, Hill was one of the best shot blockers in SEC history, and the only Arkansas player I can ever remember who could single-handedly change the entire complexion of a game with his defense. On offense, Hill would occasionally find himself on the receiving end of a spectacular alley-oop and usually shot the ball with nice touch, but for the most part, was pretty clueless and helpless. In his senior season, Hill was frequently substituted for Townes on an Offense-for-Defense basis, to great effect.

Charles Thomas was the aggressive, rebounding, charge-taking player of the three. Thomas seemed to possess no consistent offensive moves, but managed to get a lot of garbage baskets through his hustle and also converted at a high percentage from the line. After a very solid junior season, Thomas seemed poised for an All-SEC type senior campaign, but he came out of the gates slowly in 2007 and following a one-game suspension for violating team rules at the end of January, was basically a no-show for the next nine games, a stretch in which the Hogs went 4-5. Fortunately, Thomas pulled it together when it counted, and had the best game of his career, a 24-point, 10-rebound double-double, in Arkansas’ SEC Tournament upset of fourth-ranked Tennessee.

Gary Ervin and Sonny Weems started their Razorback careers late. Ervin played two seasons at Mississippi State before transferring to Arkansas after the 2004-2005 season, and Weems joined the team the same year as a JUCO transfer.

Ervin was one of the most maligned players in Arkansas history. As an overall slightly above average player, Ervin was vilified for his limitations rather than being praised for being an overall upgrade from Arkansas’ last point guard, Eric Ferguson. Ervin dribbled too high, over-penetrated, and from time to time made incredibly careless mistakes, but he also threw amazing alley-oop passes, tore apart lackadaisical transition defense, and knocked down big shots. If the Hogs found themselves still in the game with the clock winding down, they always had a chance to win with the ball in Ervin’s hands.

Sonny Weems always had the skills—a smooth jumper with an unusually high release, long arms which disrupted passing lanes and led to steals, and the athleticism to jump out of the gym, but in his first season in the SEC, had trouble putting it all together. He would have big games and then disappear for long stretches. He would knock down big shots, and then make careless turnovers in crucial moments. But then, about eight games into his senior season, something clicked. Weems scored in double figures in the next 19 games, vaulting himself to the All-SEC First Team and helping the Razorbacks into a solid position at the end of the regular season. After struggling through the SEC Tournament, Weems showed up big in the NCAA Tournament, scoring a career high 31 against Indiana to help Arkansas secure its first tournament victory since 1999.

A lot was expected of these players, and maybe that was reasonable. Three of the six—Hill, Townes and Weems—will likely have a shot at the NBA, and Weems has the skill set to be a legitimate NBA player.

Judging by the Arkansas Razorback standards of the early to mid 1990s, when they advanced to three Final Fours and six Sweet Sixteens in seven years, the three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and one total NCAA Tournament win of the 2008 class hardly seems noteworthy, but the truth is that the Razorback Basketball program hasn’t lived up to those standards for a long time.

If success is determined by leaving a program better than you found it, then these six seniors found it during their years in Fayetteville.

I’ll miss not seeing them suit up next season.


Technical Difficulties

So I was fooling around with template design on The Doc File and in the process, basically managed to break my blog.

The basic stuff should still work—posts, comments and the RSS feed—but the majority of the stuff on my sidebar has disappeared.

I’ll try to slowly repair things over the next few days, but I’m not sure how long it will take to get back to normal.

Technology is a dangerous thing in the hands of the ignorant.

Bursted Bubbles

Consider the performances of the following bubble teams yesterday in their conference tournaments:

Arizona St.—lost
New Mexico—lost
Ole Miss—lost
Syracuse—lost (actually on Wednesday)

So many bubble teams are dropping that I’m sure some of them will still make the tournament by default, but seriously, does anyone even want to make the tournament this year? Because it sure doesn’t seem like it.


Dreaming Of Passports

I planned to spend my Spring Break in 2005 in Honduras, but as I made preparations to go, I discovered that I couldn’t find my passport anywhere.

Eventually, after some expense and quite a bit of stress, I was able to get a new passport in time to make my trip, but ever since, even thinking about passports makes me slightly nervous, and I have to check now and then to make sure that I still know where mine is.

Twice recently, I’ve even dreamed about traveling and not having my passport.

In one dream, I was in Greece, and was supposed to travel with some people from there to Egypt, but at the airport, I suddenly remembered that I had left my passport at home. I had to be left behind, which was disappointing (as was the fact that my wife didn’t choose to stay with me), but I remember that my main reaction was knowing exactly where in my apartment my passport was located and being very confused as to how I had made it all the way to Greece without my passport in the first place.

In the second dream, I think I was in Russia and was returning through a security checkpoint when I realized that, once again, I was without a passport. This was confusing again, because I had somehow managed to pass through the same checkpoint without my passport right before. The prospect of being stranded in Russia was more disconcerting to me than being left in Greece, and I was starting to get upset when, in desperation, I opened my wallet to search for alternate forms of identification.

Somewhat surprisingly, but to my great relief, my expired Harding University ID was good enough, and the Russian officials let me pass on through.

I knew I was holding onto that old ID for a reason.


Your Speed Is…

For the last several weeks there has been a Your Speed Radar Gun Thingy on the road that runs by my apartment.

For those of you who don’t know, a YSRGT (perhaps not the technical name for it) displays the posted speed limit for a given road, and then displays your speed as you pass by.

I’m fairly certain that YSRGTs were developed to act as a deterrent to speeding, but based on my own reaction to them, I’m not entirely sure how effective they are (especially when left up for two months or so, as the one by my apartment was).

The speed limit on the road by my apartment is 25 mph, and apparently this had been violated enough that it became necessary for a YSRGT to be deployed to curb the speeding.

Over the years, my reaction to YSRGTs has basically followed three clear stages:

Fear: When I first came across these as a driver, they scared me to death. I was convinced that my speed data was being immediately transmitted to a cop car just around the bend who was waiting to pull over anyone who upset the YSRGT’s delicate sense of right and wrong.

Fascination: After a while, I realized that no one was pulling me over for speeding past a YSRGT, and so I started to cautiously experiment with them. Sometimes, whenever I saw one, I would try to drive the speed limit according to my speedometer and then see if it matched the YSRGT display. Other times, I would see how many mph over the limit I could go before the YSRGT started flashing a warning at me (usually about 3 mph is all you can get away with).

Exploitation: Finally I decided that not only did the presence of a YSRGT not automatically indicate the presence of a patrol car nearby, it actually indicated the absence of one. At this point, I realized that my experiments could be more daring. Now I would see how soon after first spotting the YSRGT I could get it to flash at me in warning, or see how much I could accelerate between two given spots, or, while driving the speed limit, see how close I could get to the YSRGT and then still manage to exceed the speed limit by 5, 10, or 15 mph by the time I passed it.

As I said before, I’m pretty sure that YSRGTs don’t actually encourage people to slow down.

In case my lawyer-sister is reading this and is concerned about my tendency to have speed-related legal entanglements, rest assured: I’ll be resisting all exploitative urges for the next year or so.


On Being The Bigger Person

I seem to find it constantly necessary in my job to put pettiness aside, swallow my pride, and “be the bigger person” than someone else.

Oftentimes, like, oh, let’s say yesterday for example, I’ll find myself in a position where I know that I’m in the right about something, and I know that someone else is in the wrong. And I really want nothing more than to respond to that other person in such a way that they will come to realize just exactly how right I am and how wrong they are.

And that’s when the bigger person thing comes into play.

Maybe it’s like that no matter what your job is, and maybe you find yourself having to do it all the time as well, I don’t know. What I do know is that if I’m honest, I sometimes have a fairly massive ego, and swallowing my pride and being the bigger person can be very difficult for me to do and I get tired of doing it (what seems like) so often.

The question is this: do I still get credit for stepping up and being the bigger person if I resent having to do so?

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