Monday, March 31, 2008

Jayhawks Make Final Four...w/ a Little Luck

Monday morning, and I just put the final touches on a very long exhale.

I guess this is the part where I grudgingly admit that I underestimated Davidson. I underestimated Davidson. But let's name names: Stephen Curry. Did you see his behind-the-back dribble drive move? The one that he used multiple times in traffic to drive the lane? (The one I'll be wasting my time practicing in the gym.) Did you see his shooting stroke, the release that allows him to get off shots with about six inches of space between him and the defense? Ridiculous.

The Jayhawks missed shot after shot, and Brandon Rush and Darrell Arthur failed to leave their mark on the game at crucial points. I'm thanking Mario Chalmers and Sasha Kaun for this win, with a few other guys chipping in, and some crunch-time defense. For KU to have a shot at UNC, the Jayhawk star power has to be on display.

KU played so badly and with such a lack of poise that I'm wondering if the Final Four monkey was throttling the players as well as coach Bill Self. Let's hope so.



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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Elite Eight NCAA Bracket Picks (Last Minute)

Tip-off of the UCLA-Xavier game is a few minutes away, so I have just enough time to take another run at calling the NCAA tournament. Here are my final picks for the weekend:

#1 UCLA beats #3 Xavier. Wouldn't surprise me it was another nail-biter, though.
#3 Louisville beats #1 North Carolina. Who's hotter, the Tarheels or the Cardinals? While UNC has been coasting, Louisville has been beating tougher competition. I'm saying it pays off here.
#2 Texas beats #1 Memphis. Once again, the Longhorns' poise and talent will win out. Memphis' free-throwing weakness will hurt 'em.
#1 Kansas beats #10 Davidson. By double digits.

As the KC Star's Jason Whitlock says:
The whole country might have fallen in love with Stephen Curry, his smooth shot and 13-year-old frame, but Kansas fans want him buried on Sunday.

The cute, little story must end, and it’s time for the Jayhawks to take advantage of a bracket that has fed them a 16 seed (Portland State), a terrible 8 seed (UNLV), a lucky-to-get-in 12 seed (Villanova) and now a one-man-band 10 seed (Davidson).



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Kansas Plays "Perfect Game", "Tree Toppers" Go Home

I forgot which announcer said it as the KU-Villanova smackdown was coming to a close, something like, "The Jayhawks just played a nearly perfect game...the Wildcats just couldn't recover from the sensory experience of seeing the bottoms of their shoes as they threw down alley oop dunks."

He got the "sensory experience" part right, but if anyone watching that contest thought it represented a perfect game from KU, they haven't seen the Jayhawks' more commanding performances of the season, like the win over Texas for the Big 12 championship. "Perfect" is when the Jayhawks beat Texas again for the National Championship next weekend...at least that's what I'm saying after yesterday's games.

In other breaking news (this gets kind of complicated) Lindsay was sorry to see the Western Kentucky Tree Toppers lose. This happened after we were watching the Stanford mascot dance around, and somehow got the idea that it was repping Western Kentucky. I'm thinking officials from the two universities should put their heads together and sort out this mascot mayhem. Teams should aim for the kind of clarity and panache embodied by the Jayhawk.

Lindsay: "What is that mascot, a tree topper? That's what it looks like. A big, dancing Christmas tree. Kind of weird. The Tree Toppers, that's the team name, right?"

I don't think anyone in their right mind could blame you for the confusion, babe. I'm just glad that I can help sort it out with this blog post.



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Friday, March 28, 2008

Gaming the System

Sometimes men need just a little incentive to be men, which is why we told Aidan that when he uses the bathroom, he can have a dot. Our potty-for-dots program has really taken off, but I've started to wonder about its potential for manipulation. Like, if Aidan pees four times in 45 minutes, is he exploiting a loophole in the program? Is our system being scammed?










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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sweet Sixteen (Current) NCAA Bracket Picks

Second-chance NCAA contests can be found all over the web, so if your Sweet Sixteen bracket looks like Swiss cheese, there's still hope. With the games a day away, it's time to put my bad picks behind me and predict what happens next. Here's what I've got.

#1 North Carolina beats #4 Washington State. The Tarheels haven't really been tested yet in the tournament, and they'll have to wait until their Elite Eight match-up for that to happen.

#2 Tennessee beats #3 Louisville. This is one of the marquee Sweet Sixteen games, in my opinion, the other being Texas-Stanford. I'll go with Tennessee because they've had a tougher path so far, and this will be a game where the grittier team wins.

#1 Kansas beats #12 Villanova. Games aren't really about seeds at this point. 'Nova is justifiably praised for their guard play (Scottie Reynolds is the man), but the Jayhawks have more guards and better.

#3 Wisconsin beats #10 Davidson. The monstrous post presence of the Badgers overcomes Stephon Curry's hot hand.

#5 Michigan State beats #1 Memphis. I'm going to defy the supercomputer on this one and go with the better free-throw-shooting team. Free-throws are vital in the NCAAs despite what John Calipari says. Besides, I feel like I have to pick an upset.

#2 Texas beats #3 Stanford. Texas starts five NBA-caliber players and they play with composure, which will allow them to beat the Lopez twins.

#1 UCLA beats #12 Western Kentucky. After a near loss and a controversial no-call against A&M, the Bruins get to exhale. The Hilltoppers have no answer for Kevin Love.

#3 Xavier beats #7 West Virginia. Bob Huggins work with West Virginia this season is remarkable, but his luck finally runs out here--in a very close game.

Who are you picking?



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Walking, Talking Supercomputer Picks the Jayhawks

FOX's WhatIfSports computer simulated the NCAA tournament 10,000 times and concludes, among other things, that:

Kansas is still the prohibitive favorite to defeat Memphis and claim this year’s NCAA Tournament Championship.

Memphis? If we actually do get a KU-Memphis showdown, my faith in the rise of the NCAA machines will increase exponentially. I'm still thinking Texas or UCLA. Remember that ugly, debated, come-from-behind win the Bruins pulled out against A&M? Texas is about twice as good as the Aggies.



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Monday, March 24, 2008

Cornered by Monotonously Dangerous Essays

When I started seminary about four years ago, I did not have to swing carrots in front of my face in order to get essays written. If memory serves (It might not, it's become slightly unreliable lately. Example: Ask me, quick! for my earliest childhood memory: Umm, KU over Portland State by 24!) the essays just happened.

I read my books and eagerly scanned my syllabi, then seated myself at the computer humming in contentment while my papers typed themselves. The next morning I would swing by the desk on my way out the door, grab my warm, white essay--newly printed and collated by my cooperative printer--and turn it in for an A grade before running outside to gambol on the green grass in the fresh, transparent air under the yellow sun. There has been far too little gamboling lately. And far too many dry, lobotomizing essays.

They've stopped writing themselves. The process is no longer magical, unless you consider coffee beans to have magical properties, which I do. But I feel palpable resistance when I try and write. Like a force stronger than coffee has pitted itself against me. I feel as if Satan has surrounded my computer with minor demons who are whispering, You shall not write this essay. No. NO, STOP! NCAABASKETBALL NCAABASKETBALL NCAABASKETBALL... (At this point they hiss a sigh of relief, then go and take a prolonged lunch break).

This week is my de facto Spring Break, and I have three main goals--other than my usual ones of sleeping, drinking a lot of coffee, making a couple dollars, spending more than five minutes alone with Lindsay, and trying to break a rim at the community center. These goals are:

  1. Do our taxes.
  2. Write a couple essays for a class.
  3. Relaunch this blog (more on this).
One guess which of these goals inspires fear, dread, and mind-numbing paralysis? And I don't even like math.



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Winner of the 2008 NCAA Championship

The Kansas Jayhawks have the best shot, says The Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy. I know, I know, this gloating is unbecoming...



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Lindsay: "You don't know what these people do!"

Referring to Adian and Asher. Well, here's proof that I do know, babe. Believe me, I know. :-)

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Scanning the Sweet Sixteen NCAA Bracket

The morning after the three-bombs stopped falling, a bunch of us are sifting through the charred remains of our young, untested brackets. The brackets are older now and have gained experience. They are also full of holes.

ESPN's Andy Katz has a great rundown of the Sweet Sixteen field. He evaluates each team's manner of arrival, what it means for their program, and the drama factor involved.

Unsurprisingly, all the #1 seeds advanced. Surprisingly, Davidson knocked off Georgetown. Very surprisingly, Western Kentucky is still alive--at least for another game.

Of the remaining 16 teams, I successfully picked 10...which puts me above 500%:

  1. North Carolina
  2. Louisville
  3. Tennessee
  4. Wisconsin
  5. Kansas
  6. Stanford
  7. Texas
  8. Memphis
  9. Xavier
  10. UCLA
I missed these guys:
  1. Washington State
  2. Davidson
  3. Villanova
  4. Michigan State
  5. West Virginia
  6. Western Kentucky
Did anyone pick Western Kentucky to get here? Also, from Jeff Goodman, comes a post that makes me smile: ACC Proving Mediocrity. Goodman also rips the Pac-10 while stating that the Big 12 "exceeded [his] expectations." Ha ha ha.



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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Death is Reversed, the World is Changed

Christ has turned all our sunsets into dawns. - Clement of Alexandria

The great mystery is Jesus Christ—the gospel. What would the condition of any of us be if we had not the hope of immortality?…Thank God, the gospel of Jesus Christ brought life and immortality to light. - Daniel Webster

I am all at once what Christ is,
since he was what I am,
And this Jack, joke, poor potsherd,
patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond. - Gerard Manley Hopkins

All actual life is encounter. - Martin Buber

May we encounter him today.



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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Aidan is Two

And we told him that the circumference of his cake will increase by one inch for every year of his life. Actually, in this shot he is reenacting his birthday moment, the moment where he wished "eat 'marshamallows' for breakfast" and then defaulted by asking me and Lindsay to blow out his candles for him (March 14).

It's taken him a few days to polish off his fire engine cake (six inches long--just kidding, it was full-sized), but every time he eats some, he requests the full treatment: candles, cheering, and "Happy Birthday," during which he accompanies Lindsay.

Kid knows how to party.

In the back of the photo, you can see one of his favorite birthday presents, if you look closely. He can swish three pointers from up to four feet away.

In the second picture, you can see him conducting and singing "Happy Birthday." You can also see from his tired eyes that his cold, lack of sleep, and hours spent relentlessly perfecting his jump shot has begun to take a toll on him.

We can only hope that the NBA bucks will someday atone for this abridgment of his childhood. Poor guy.

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The Madness Dwindles - Slightly

The Madness has been curtailed around here somewhat, since Arizona and Kentucky and Baylor failed to pull off their upsets as (we) planned. However, assuring that bracket fever is still somewhat rampant, K-State, Siena, Davidson, and Texas A&M did win. So we haven't exactly turned off the TV and resorted to sitting in corners crying into our cold drinks.

At the moment, I'm wondering if I should have picked K-State to upset Wisconsin.
Aidan is perfecting his bank shot on his Little Tikes hoop.
Lindsay is examining her bracket, which is taped to the utility closet door, next to mine. She's actually up on me two games, which is a little worrying.
Asher is playing with a furry, stuffed basketball which allegedly belongs to Aidan, a fact that we are frequently forced to discuss.
We're all battling with a cold bug that has the resiliency and shelf life of a rubberized Hostess Twinkie.

I am slowly preparing myself to write a post that doesn't center on NCAA hoops, but I'm not quite there yet...be patient with me here, I'm a sick man. Specifically, in the sense that I have a cold and it's March.



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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Coldplay's New Album: From X&Y to Viva la Vida

And now for something completely different. Pitchfork notes that Coldplay's new album, slated for June 17, will have...ready for this?...Latin America flair:

"The sights, sounds and flavours of Latin America and Spain have definitely been infused into this album...No maracas or castanets, but a vibrancy and colourfulness that owes much to the atmospheres of Buenos Aires and Barcelona. The effect is subtle but important."

The title is Viva la Vida, either that or Death and All His Friends. Here's hoping that Viva gets the nod. Trying to picture (with your ears) what Latin American Coldplay will sound like? Me too...



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NCAA Bracket Upset Picks (2008)

With NCAA tip-offs mere hours away, I'm going out on a limb to highlight some of my favorite upset picks for the first round. "Favorite" upset predictions are kind of like "favorite" stocks in brand new IPOs--they're good for an adrenalin rush and some fun speculation, accompanied by the knowledge that they could also crush your portfolio like a cockroach. Same thing here, except your bracket is at stake. (Fortunately, in both cases there are ways to hedge your losses.)

But enough NCAA upset pick philosophy, here's what I've got.

Smart Upset Picks

#11 Kansas State beats #6 USC. The K-State Wildcats are better than their seed implies, and in the war of the League-bound prep stars, Michael Beasely will edge out O.J. Mayo and show why he deserves POY honors over Tyler Hansbrough. An upset is all the more likely if K-State's x-factor, Bill Walker shows up--he and Mayo played together in high school and might actually be the real rivalry here.

#10 Davidson beats # 7 Gonzaga. Davidson is the owner of the nation's longest current winning streak (22) and they're playing just 100 miles from home in Raleigh, NC, while the 'Zags will have to travel 2,000 miles. It's a good bet to say the streak goes to 23.

Solid Upset Picks
#12 Temple beats #5 Michigan State. This is that proverbial 12/5 upset special. Temple poses match-up problems for the Spartans, and Michigan State has been anything but consistent this season.

#9 Oregon beats #8 Mississippi State. The Ducks need redemption after an underachieving Pac 10 season.

#9 Texas A&M beats # 8 Brigham Young. A&M has several NBA-caliber players, and they've stopped underachieving just in time for NCAA play.

#10 Arizona beats #7 West Virginia. You might not know that the Wildcats are loaded, but they'll play to their talent level for at least one NCAA game.

Risky Upset Picks
#13 Siena beats #4 Vanderbilt. The Siena Saints have won six straight, while the Commodores have lost three of their last five. Confidence is the key ingredient that allows little teams to become giant slayers.

#11 Kentucky beats #6 Marquette. Billy Gillespie and the Wildcats have some things to prove. A good upset pick if you have the guts.



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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ongiara by Great Lake Swimmers (Review)

I'm not a "music reviewer" because then I'd have to acquaint myself with scores of esoteric garage bands (I only know about a dozen) and make frequent references to them in my posts.

I don't have time for that, so I have to satisfy myself with being a dude who writes about music he listens to--and honestly, I don't mind. My most recent discover is Great Lake Swimmers, specifically the Ongiara (2007) album. I picked it up on the strength of a free live recording EP, and it's been getting a lot of play over the last 48 hours.

In case you're wondering: The title Ongiara was the name of the boat that ferried the band to Toronto Island, where they recorded the initial demo. "Ongiara" is also the original name for Niagara Falls; the name is said to have originated from the Iroquois word Onguiaahra and the local tribe of Iroquois inhabitants known as the Ongiaras. - Wikipedia

What do Great Lake Swimmers sound like? Think hushed vocals, slowly building melodies, and a clean, folk sound with plenty of banjo and other deft acoustic flourishes. Initially, I said that Great Lake Swimmers sounded "kind of like Arcade Fire meets Innocence Mission with peacenik lyrics."

In order to make that description less ridiculous, I'd now place the group, loosely, in the same genre as Iron and Wine, Sufjan Stevens, Bon Iver, and--Lindsay says--Don Chaffer (slightly esoteric local reference, sorry). My appreciation for the Swimmers' quietly poetic lyrics has grown with the full length album.

By way of other endorsements, I should mention that Aidan has added Great Lake Swimmers' Ongiara to his list of approved nighttime music, along with Innocence Mission, Ben Folds, and Campfire Songs by Veggie Tales. His comment: "I hate sleep, but the soulful strumming of Great Lake Swimmers makes it bearable. Almost."



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My NCAA Bracket Gains Self Esteem

FOX's Jeff Goodman has my back when it comes to my NCAA tournament winners:

Kansas coach Bill Self told me that guard Sherron Collins is “100 percent”. That the factor that ultimately swayed me to pick the Jayhawks to beat UCLA in the national title game.
And it's not only Goodman. A highly respected sports writer from the L.A. Times, of all places, is also pushing KU:
Yes, the final will be a repeat of the terrific Big 12 Conference championship game. And yes, for a second consecutive time, the Jayhawks will win -- this time for the national title.

They're experienced -- their best players are a sophomore, two juniors and a senior. They're talented at both ends of the court -- they led the Big 12 in all major offensive and defensive categories.

They can run if necessary, or bang if necessary. Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers can beat you outside, Darrell Arthur and Darnell Jackson can beat you inside.

They lost three games this season, all on the road, by a total of 13 points.

They won't lose again. (HT: Will Hicks)

And he didn't even mention Sherron Collins. My bracket was feeling pretty good about itself already, but now it's really swaggering.



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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Unconventional NCAA Bracket Contest

If you're looking for something a little different in the way of pick 'em competition, check out the NCAA bracket contest at the Las Vegas Review Journal. You can enter at any time before or during the tournament, and can only pick a round at a time. In other words, you may be down, but you're never out. Some number-crunching lets you assess your accuracy precisely--which is fun, if you're planning on to win. ;-)

Still looking for help with your bracket predictions? Take a look at my NCAA Bracket Picks series, starting with round one.



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2008 NCAA Bracket Predictions: Elite Eight, Final Four

So now we've reached the Elite Eight. We've made our bracket picks for the first round, second round, and third round (regionals), and now we find ourselves staring down the barrels of eight loaded, NCAA-proven, road-tested teams (allow me the bad metaphor). Time for more off-the-cuff analysis.

Our problem here is that any of the remaining teams could very well win it all--and that's especially true this year, when so many of the top-tier teams have advanced. As we pick our Final Four and National Champion, we have to trust our luck, go with our gut, and back our favorites. Sound good?

We'll tackle the remaining predictions with the same savvy improv that's taken us this far. NCAA bracket glory awaits...first, the Elite Eight games.

East

#2 Tennessee beats #1 North Carolina. The Tarheels' lack of defense and the Vols' chip on the shoulder meet in a perfect storm. Tennessee wins by 5.

Midwest
#1 Kansas beats #3 Wisconsin. Wisconsin tries to ugly the game up, but KU's inside beef rises to the challenge, and the Badgers can't stop the Jayhawks from running away in the last ten minutes of the second half.

South
#2 Texas beats #1 Memphis. Memphis gets caught on the horns of a Longhorn dilemma, and get gored. Conference USA hasn't prepared them for a team with as many weapons and as much composure as Texas--plus, they miss crucial free throws.

West
#1 UCLA beats #3 Xavier. Xavier can wheel and deal with the best of them, but they can't stop Kevin Love.

All right, we paid our dues to the top dogs by advancing #1 seeds Kansas and UCLA while simultaneously respecting the NCAA upset bug. On to the Final Four.
#1 Kansas beats #2 Tennessee. Bruce Pearl and the Vols are eager to revenge themselves on KU for the theft of the Midwest's #1 seed, but they didn't count on the Jayhawks' stifling defense.

#1 UCLA beats #2 Texas. Texas nabbed UCLA early in the season, and the Bruins have the advantage of the revenge factor. Alternatively, this would make a great last-ditch upset pick, because we know that Texas has the tools to beat UCLA. In my brackets I've been alternating UCLA and Texas in the final game.

And now, the National Championship:
#1 Kansas beats #1 UCLA. The Bruins have the best player in Kevin Love, but in this game, the Jayhawks have the next three best players in Darrell Arthur, Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush. KU's tag team approach to the post (Arthur, Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun, and Cole Aldrich) is enough to wear Love down, and the Jayhawks win the game in the last two minutes.

So there you have it. Two #1 seeds meet in the NCAA tournament championship, which is not an extremely daring prediction, but even as a #1, the Jayhawks would probably be considered a dark horse pick on most brackets (North Carolina and Memphis have had more headlines).

Best of luck making your own bracket predictions. This year, with 5-6 really dominant teams, a good approach will be to respect the elite teams while honoring the underdogs with a handful of strategic upset picks--which is what I've tried to do with my predictions. Whatever happens, back your picks to the last minute--because that's when a lot of these games are won. Hope it works for you!

If you're looking for one more bracket pool, this blog has one. Feel free to jump in. If you liked what you read here, go ahead and subscribe to this blog or bookmark it for more NCAA talk (mixed with other stuff). Now, go get to work on your brackets.



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Monday, March 17, 2008

March: Good for Blog Traffic, Bad for Health


Yesterday we threw a wild party with a bunch of extended family to celebrate Aidan's 2nd birthday, watched the NCAA Selection Show online, and went to bed. That was a good day.

During the night there was a lot of coughing, crying, and frequently altered sleeping arrangements.

And today we spent our time sneezing, whimpering, taking 30-second cat naps, and enjoying March Madness as much as possible. I decided to go public with some NCAA bracket strategery, and the resulting influx of traffic surprised even me (see graph). I guess I just didn't realize how much the world was clamoring for my bracket picks input. Won't make that mistake again...

Aidan did his part to lift the atmosphere, which was muggy with sleepiness and humidity from all the snot, by infusing his sickbed comments with a sincerity that made them seem almost sacramental: "Bless you, Asher, bless you." Also, the kid's flat out funny:

"Is that a bus? Is that a fire truck? No, it's Aidan, making noises."

Forecast: More bracketology, less sickness.



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Coffee Tastes Better in a Mug

I think most of us already knew this, but now we have the data on our side. Did I mention I have a large earthenware mug collection?



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2008 NCAA Bracket Predictions: Third Round (Regionals)

So now we're down to the Sweet 16 teams. Most of your bracket decisions have been made, but the remaining predictions are tough ones. Get them wrong and they'll keep you up all night (let's be honest, that will probably happen anyway), get them right and you'll pick your way to NCAA tournament glory.

Here's some quick and dirty analysis to help you complete your winning bracket. Earlier I left everything on the court (er, blog) when I picked the first and second rounds of the NCAAs, and what comes next depends on those brazen early predictions.

Just remember that tourney talk is cheap, and all this advice will ultimately end with you locked in a staring contest with your bracket, pencil in hand, asking paralyzing questions like, Is it really a good idea to pick Siena in that first round upset?

We'll start in the East Regional.

#1 North Carolina beats #5 Notre Dame. This is a good year to advance the loaded #1 seeds into the Elite Eight.
#2 Tennessee beats #3 Louisville. Some of you will have picked Oklahoma in the previous game, which would be a gutsy upset pick. Either way, the Vols act as a big, fat NCAA eraser here.

Now for the Midwest Regional.
#1 Kansas beats #5 Clemson. The Tigers will play the spoiler here--for 30 minutes.
#3 Wisconsin beats #2 Georgetown. A rugged, grind-it-out Wisconsin team beats the weakest of the #2 seeds. Our first upset in regional action.

On to the South Regional.
#1 Memphis beats #12 Temple. Derrick Rose and co. send the overachieving Owls home to roost.
#2 Texas beats #3 Stanford. In an epic battle, the Longhorns will overpower the Lopez twins with an entire roster of NBA players.

Concluding with the West Regional.
#1 UCLA beats Drake. By 20.
#3 Xavier beats #2 Duke. The teams have similar styles, but Xavier will execute better this time.

I opted to play it safe, advancing all the #1 seeds with picks that favor the odds. Not one to entirely forsake the upset picks, though, I gave the underdogs some credit in a couple of 3/2 spoiler predictions. Not that the underdogs need much sympathy in the Sweet Sixteen. Anyone still in the bracket at this point is fear-worthy!

Check back for the Elite Eight and Final Four NCAA picks, coming up. Next time out, I'll go ahead and pick my champion. Hint: It won't be North Carolina. You can bookmark or subscribe to stay posted. Good luck with your own NCAA brackets, and if you need another tournament pool to compete in, feel free to jump in here.

UPDATE: Now the Elite 8, Final 4 and Championship picks are posted.



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2008 NCAA Bracket Predictions: Second Round

OK, we still have time before the NCAA Tournament actually kicks off, but if you're like me, you want to have a dozen brackets picked and submitted already. Also, small detail, they need to be winning brackets that can support the weight of some smack talk. Ready for tourney analysis with swagger? Let's get to it.

Yesterday I showcased my predictions for the first round of the NCAAs--today let's move on to the later rounds. Just remember, what you're seeing here is based on my advice from yesterday.

Here's how things play out in the second round of the East Regional.

#1 North Carolina beats #8 Indiana. IU has a handful of NBA players but UNC has a roster of them.
#5 Notre Dame beats #4 Washington St. Not a huge upset but a very plausible one.
#3 Louisville beats #6 Oklahoma. The Sooners' Blake Griffin will match up well against the Cardinals' David Padgett, but Padgett has a better supporting cast. Or so everyone thinks... Alternatively, this could be a decent upset pick.
#2 Tennessee beats #7 Butler. After a perceived #1-seed-snub, the Vols will have more than enough fuel in the tank for a deep tournament run.

In the Midwest Regional, here's how it goes:
#1 Kansas beats #8 UNLV. This will be a tune-up game for the Jayhawks.
#5 Clemson beats #13 Siena. The upset magic ends here for the Saints.
#3 Wisconsin beats #11 Kansas State. Michael Beasely won't be able to stop Wisconsin's tough, hungry attack by himself.
#2 Georgetown beats #10 Davidson. Reality will hit the Wildcats hard, in the form of Roy Hibbert.

Here's how the ball bounces in the South Regional.
#1 Memphis beats #9 Oregon. Memphis' easy conference schedule gave them plenty of practice beating teams like the Ducks.
#12 Temple beats #4 Pittsburgh. We've been conservative so far, but some of those over-achieving seeds always advance. This year it's Temple.
#3 Stanford beats #11 Kentucky. Having offset a wild first year with a tourney win, Billy Gillespie's Wildcats make their exit (after some spitting and scratching).
#2 Texas beats #7 Miami (Fl.). This could be a blowout.

Finally, here's how things go down in the West Regional.
#1 UCLA beats #9 Texas A&M. The Aggies will run with UCLA for about ten minutes before the ampersand in their name lets them down. (Similar to the hypen, the ampersand is a typically a bad bracket omen.)
#5 Drake beats #4 Connecticut. In a minor upset that will surprise no one.
#3 Xavier beats #11 Baylor. This year, the Bears will will have to satisfy themselves with simply having made the tournament and notching a win.
#2 Duke beats #10 Arizona. Both teams have talent, but Duke milks theirs for all its worth.

There you have it--a moderately brave set of NCAA picks that can bear the weight of some bracket bravado. If you want to live a little more dangerously, take the #6 Oklahoma/#3 Louisville upset I hinted at. It's hard to go wrong with a handful of strategic upset predictions, since they happen every year! (Picking the right ones is the hard part.)

Check back for the regionals and national semifinals, coming up. You can bookmark or subscribe to stay posted. Good luck with your own NCAA brackets, and if you need another tournament pool to compete in, feel free to jump in here.

UPDATE: NCAA Bracket Predictions, Third Round (Regionals) are now up.
Also, picks for the Elite Eight, Final Four, and National Championship are posted.



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Sunday, March 16, 2008

2008 NCAA Bracket Predictions: First Round

Keeping the NCAA buzz machine running at full steam, here are my NCAA Tourney picks for the first round of 2008's games. I'll even throw in some bracket analysis, off-the-cuff style.

With a little luck, this advice will help you dominate your tournament pool (even if it's a kiddie pool)--but I'm making no guarantees! This is madness, after all.

OK, starting in the East Regional, here are my predictions.
#1 North Carolina beats the play-in. No brainer.
#8 Indiana beats #9 Arkansas. White and Gordon will be too much for the Razorbacks.
#5 Notre Dame beats #12 George Mason. Picking the #12 over the #5 is often a good idea, but not this time.
#4 Washington State beats #13 Winthrop. Good time to take the safe pick (we'll get risky later).
#6 Oklahoma beats #11 Saint Joseph's. St. Joe won't have an answer for the Sooner's Blake Griffin.
#3 Louisville beats #14 Boise State. The Cards are hot.
#7 Butler beats # 10 S. Alabama. Experience and superior talent carry the day here.
#2 Tennessee beats #15 American. It won't help American that the Vols had a #1 seed pulled out from under them at the last minute.

On to the Midwest Regional. Here's what happens:
#1 Kansas beats #16 Portland State. The mercurial Jayhawks are prone to play down to their opponents, but they'll still win this one by, oh, 17.
#8 UNLV beats #9 Kent State. In a close game.
#5 Clemson beats #12 Villanova. After beating Duke and challenging North Carolina in the ACC, the Tigers are planning to stick around the NCAA tournament for awhile.
#13 Siena beats #4 Vanderbilt. 13/4 upsets are rarer than 12/5s, but this would be a good one to pick.
#11 Kansas State beats #6 USC. In the war of the League-bound prep stars, Michael Beasely will edge out O.J. Mayo and show why he deserves POY honors over Tyler Hansbrough.
#3 Wisconsin beats #14 Cal St. Fullerton. Teams with four or more syllables in their names seldom advance far in the bracket, and Wisconsin probably deserved a #2 seed.
#10 Davidson beats # 7 Gonzaga. The owners of the longest current NCAA winning streak will add another game.
Georgetown beats UMBC. No answers here for the Hoyas' post play.

Here's how it will go down in the South regional:
#1 Memphis beats #16 Texas-Arlington. Good rule of thumb: teams with hyphenated names don't go far in the tourney.
#9 Oregon beats #8 Mississippi State. The Ducks are better than you think.
#12 Temple beats #5 Michigan State. This is that proverbial 12/5 upset special, and Michigan State has been anything but consistent this season.
#4 Pittsburgh beats #13 Oral Roberts. Pittsburgh is tough.
#11 Kentucky beats #6 Marquette. Billy Gillespie and the Wildcats have some things to prove. A good upset pick if you have the guts.
# 3 Stanford beats #14 Cornell. This won't be close.
#7 Miami (Fla.) beats #10 St. Mary's (Cal.). Expect a battle though.
#2 Texas beats #15 Austin Peay. It will probably take another couple rounds for you to know how good the Longhorns actually are.

Finally, the West Regional. Here's what to expect.
#1 UCLA beats #16 Mississippi Valley. Were you holding your breath? This isn't the year a 16 beats a 1.
#9 Texas A&M beats # 8 Brigham Young. A&M has stopped underachieving just in time for NCAA play.
#5 Drake beats #12 Western Kentucky. Again, the 12/5 rule might apply here. But it doesn't.
#4 Connecticut beats #13 San Diego. UConn is not the powerhouse it has been, but SD is still over-matched.
#11 Baylor beats #6 Purdue. Baylor continues their march out of the national cellar with a feel-good win. Watch their ultra-talented back court.
#3 Xavier beats #14 Georgia. Georgia sneaked into the bracket at the last minute, but the party ends here.
#10 Arizona beats #7 West Virginia. You might not know that the Wildcats are loaded, but they'll play to their talent level for at least one NCAA game.
#2 Duke beats #15 Belmont. After getting bounced by Clemson in the ACC tournament, Duke isn't about to lose two in a row.

Check back for the second round, regionals, and national semifinals, coming up. (You can bookmark or subscribe to stay posted.) Good luck with your own NCAA brackets, and if in doubt, pick 'em with bravado. A few good upset predictions never hurt! If you need another tournament pool to compete in, feel free to jump in here.

UPDATE: See also, 2008 NCAA Bracket Picks, Second Round
The Third Round (Regional) picks are also up. And now, the Elite 8, Final 4 and Championship picks are posted.



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March Madness Three-Pointer

I've been binge-posting NCAA basketball, and I feel kind of bad about it, but why stop now?

So the Big 12 has six teams in the NCAA Tournament, as was requested on this blog. Finally, someone listens to me. And Kansas has a #1 seed, despite Dick Vitale's best efforts to pump UNC and Duke. Nice. I have to admit I'm surprised, even assuming the committee took the Jayhawks' spectacular victory this afternoon over a very, very good Texas team into account (that game was an instant classic). KU will be viewed as the least impressive #1 at the national level, though, so the 'Hawks had better come out with a chip on their shoulder. If Brandon Rush continues to play like a pro, it will help.

Item # 1: If you haven't yet, go join the blog's bracket contest. We're even accepting ACC fans.

# 2. Did you watch the selection show? Getting geared up for the first round games? Dime picks the NCAA's best first round matches, including one that jumped up and smacked me in the face when I saw it too:

6) USC vs. (11) Kansas State
Speaking of obscenely-talented freshmen, this one is gonna be crazy. Michael Beasley (26.5 ppg, 12.4 rpg) has been destroying everything in his path all year long, while O.J. Mayo (20.8 ppg) didn’t start off so hot but has finished the season real strong. Can you imagine the hype this game would have received back in November, when there was a bit more mystery behind each guy? It’s still well worth watching now, though.

# 3. Finally, The Search wants to help you notice the glory hidden in March Madness:
You know the moment in a basketball game when your team is down by a dozen or so points, but makes a run and brings it to within two? And then the crowd rises to its feet, loudly cheering, and the team gets a new bounce in its step, hitting a long three to take the lead? That moment, with the deafening noise and dispirited opponents losing control—is a moment when you can touch the glory, where you glimpse—dare I say it—the divine. You get goosebumps, you slap a stranger’s hand, and you raise your voice to the rafters for the glory to continue.
This is a really good time of year.
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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Watch 2008 March Madness Online

You can sign up to watch NCAA Tournament games online for free by heading over to NCAA.com. Look for the "March Madness on Demand VIP" graphic about halfway down the right side of the page. When I signed up a minute ago, I was informed that the VIP list had reached "80% capacity"--who knows if that's a marketing gimmick or the truth?

Apparently the NCAA is taking a page out of ESPN 360's playbook.



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Incredible Hulk Gets Movie Makeover

The first attempt at an Incredible Hulk movie back in 2003 was excessively cornball and weird--and all two of you who saw it know what I'm talking about. Apparently Marvel noticed too, after suffering a stylistic coma while the film was being produced and released, and now they want to kiss and make up.

The second Incredible Hulk (trailer) looks much, MUCH better. Lindsay even seconds me on this. The cast includes Edward Norton and Liv Tyler, which in itself represents a pretty significant upgrade. ETA: June 2008.



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God Thinks I'm More than Disreputable

For years I was happy with the simple idea that God did more than merely disapprove of me. Of course, he did disapprove--that was incontestable--but there was a mixture of pity and tolerant interest, maybe a certain fondness, like Have you SEEN this kid? The train wrecks he has been involved in are ridiculous. He's a serial train wrecker. I did make him though, and do like the guy, but good God--here he would thoughtfully stroke his own chin--he needs so much work that it would be a lot easier to start over. Still, I did give the world endless second chances, so there is that precedent...

I've advanced beyond this perspective by the grace of God, and know that he loves me strongly, the way I love my sons but infinitely more so, and because of Jesus, he whole-heartedly approves of who I'm becoming (and in a heavenly sense, already am).

On my bad days, though, I will sometimes default back to that early realization which, to be honest, was a victory at the time: to God I'm more than disreputable and incorrigible. He does more than disapprove of me. He has an indulgent affection, like we can have in the movies for a busted criminal with good stage presence.



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2008 NCAA Tournament Bracket Contest: OPEN

[UPDATE:] Here are my 2008 NCAA Tournament Picks.

I have no idea how many NCAA hoops fans read this blog--my best guess is there are about 6 of you--so I'm sorry, in a crocodile-like kind of way, for betraying the interests of my readership over the last several days with incessant basketball posts... but for you NCAA hoops fans, you can enter the bracket contest on Facebook. I think. Let me know if this link doesn't get it done.



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Friday, March 14, 2008

Rush to the Rim?

Brandon Rush discusses his baffling habit of tossing soft floaters toward the hoop when he has the ability to reach the rim whenever he wants to. From the KC Star article:

“I don’t know why I continue to shoot the floater,” Rush said. “It hasn’t fallen for me in like two years, so …”

“I’m like, ‘What was that?’ ” Rush said. “I do that sometimes. I wonder what I’m doing out there.”

Bill Self: “In today’s time, with emphasis on getting the ball to the paint and driving it, you need to have that,” Self said. “And of course the best floater shooter on our team is Mario, hands down. He might be as good as anybody in the country at doing that, and Brandon’s not. But Brandon likes Mario and watches him a lot, so I guess he’s trying to imitate him.”

If you're a Jayhawk fan, you're scratching your head while crossing your fingers at the same time.



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Best College Basketball Player of All Time?

C.J. Mahaney and Sam Storms argue over the best college basketball player of all time. Theological implications aside, what about Wilt Chamberlain?



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Salute to the Fallen Foe

Asher is a tough cookie, built like Sherron Collins, but he has a compassionate side as well. He donned this outfit when the smoking wreckage of Missouri's basketball season was finally extinguished by the Big 12 Tournament, as a kind of sympathetic gesture. And then he went right to work mucking out his diaper pail, which was his chore for the afternoon.

Apparel donated snidely by R. Sherman.

And sincerely, we really are sorry for the way MU's season ended. Very, very sorry. Let's observe a moment of silence for the Tigers...

[ ]
And now, popcorn.



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About Me, About This Blog

Ariel (AJ) Vanderhorst is a married twenty-something living in Kansas City while finishing a Masters degree. He enjoys playing hoops and hitting on his wife and wishes he could write like C.S. Lewis.

He would also like to drop the third person voice now, if you don’t mind.

I created this site in 5 minutes in a public library a few years ago, when a friend emailed me a link to his new blog and I decided all the cool kids were doing it. Once I’d created BitterSweetLife, a new question confronted me: Now what?

The answer: Improvise.

And that’s why you can hit up this blog whenever you’re in the mood for NCAA hoops talk, cultural (A&E) buzz, photos, book reviews, personal anecdotes, and (making it possible), coffee news—all mashed together. Eclecticism has become a way of life.

Admittedly, I’ve made it up as I’ve gone along, but this blog has helped me meet some great people, hone my writing abilities, and promote my advertising copywriting business. It’s been a fun ride and the wheels are still rolling.

[My thoughts can also be found at arieljvan.com, where I blog--with more focus--about theology and church planting.]



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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Swank with the 'Pank

Aidan has started running around laughing and hitting people--that would be me and Lindsay--on the butt and saying "I did a 'pank!"

Clearly a case of Terrible Twoness, right? Wrong. If only it were that simple.

You see, Aidan's been following the NCAA hoops action pretty closely, including the huddles and sideline conversations with the prerequisite butt slapping, and this makes these incidents very ethically murky. Is Aidan defying us, or just emulating the Basketball Big Boys?

My mind-reading abilities only extend to very witty repartee that Aidan communicates to me telepathically to be passed on to his mother, so I really can't tell what's going on in his little noggin. Clearly, this is a crisis. A crisis brought on by the advent of March Madness. So an unavoidable one.

But still, we're so perplexed that we've taken to flipping a coin after every 'pank and acting according to the wisdom of the dime. Heads, we let Aidan's escapade go as part of the basketball lifestyle. Tails, we spank his. Seems to be working fine so far, although flipping that coin five or six times a minute really breaks up our day.



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This Warms My Smack-Loving Heart

Fifth entry from the top.



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Inexperienced Teams Lose in March--Not!

Read the Shocking Expose

This would be the equivalent to March Madness tabloid news--if it wasn't substantiated with solid fact! University Daily Kansan writer Asher Fusco points out that a number of teams around the country and in the Big 12 are seriously lacking in experience. And proves that it doesn't matter.



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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

C.J. Mahaney Gets It

Add C.J. Mahaney to the short list of men who understand the relationship between holiness and hoops: The Madness Finally Arrives. It doesn't hurt that Mahaney looks slightly like ex-KU player Jeff Boschee.

More seriously: I've heard C.J. Mahaney talk, read his writing, and very much appreciate his wisdom, humor, and stubborn, persistent focus on Jesus Christ.



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Eugene Peterson on the Jacked Up Church

I just read an interview with Eugene Peterson (thanks to Jared Wilson) that reminds me why Peterson is one of my favorite contemporary voices. He talks about "spirituality" and the American church, and I found a slice that is pertinent to a lot of recent discussion and some of the buzz that surrounded Pagan Christianity? Check it:

[interviewer:] Since the Reformation, though, we've championed the idea that the church can be reformed.

[Peterson:] Hasn't happened. I'm for always reforming, but to think that we can get a church that's reformed is just silliness.

I think the besetting sin of pastors, maybe especially evangelical pastors, is impatience. We have a goal. We have a mission. We're going to save the world. We're going to evangelize everybody, and we're going to do all this good stuff and fill our churches. This is wonderful. All the goals are right. But this is slow, slow work, this soul work, this bringing people into a life of obedience and love and joy before God.

And we get impatient and start taking shortcuts and use any means available. We talk about benefits. We manipulate people. We bully them. We use language that is just incredibly impersonal -- bullying language, manipulative language.

Read the whole thing.



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Exploring the "Book Club" Idea

A week or so ago, a couple people mentioned the idea of a "book club" for this blog. How would that work? I'm not exactly sure. Basic idea: Anyone interested grabs a copy of the slated book, we start reading at approx. the same time, and commit to x number of interlinked posts about it on our respective blogs? Or: I could open a discussion thread here, on a given book, where readers could leave their opinions in the comments? Either would be fine with me...let me know if you have a better idea.

Probably the more basic question is whether there are enough interested people to sustain a good discussion. So maybe I can test the waters here by floating a few books with club potential (friendly, dress well, good sense of rhythm...). If any of these titles catch your eye, or you'd be willing to talk about a book I don't mention, speak up.




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Big 12 Tournament Picks

Animated by rapidly rising levels of March adrenalin, I can't help but post my picks for the Big 12 Basketball Tournament (start tomorrow). Anyone who wants to print off a bracket for refrigerator use can find one here.

First Round (Thursday)
OKLAHOMA STATE beats Texas Tech
BAYLOR beats Colorado
NEBRASKA beats Missouri
TEXAS A&M beats Iowa State

Second Round (Friday)
OKLAHOMA STATE beats Texas (just when the 'Horns are thinking they own OK-State, they'll get drygulched--ok, maybe wishful thinking, but the Cowboys played UT tight last time )
BAYLOR beats Oklahoma (there's really not much separating these two teams)
KANSAS beats Nebraska
TEXAS A&M beats Kansas State (A&M needs a win to cement their NCAA position)

Semifinals (Saturday)
BAYLOR beats Oklahoma State (if Baylor combines three-point shooting with a strong game from Kevin Rogers, they have the firepower to advance to the final)
KANSAS beats Texas A&M (visualize a repeat of the game at A&M, but with a wider margin of victory)

Final (Sunday)
KANSAS beats Baylor (but it'll stay close for most of the first half)

Clearly, I'm going out on a limb here by keeping Texas out of the final. I'm putting it all on the line. So what are your picks? Leave them in the comments if you want to play...



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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Big 12 Tournament News

I may be biased, but I think the best Big 12 Tournament coverage will be coming out of KC's local paper, the Star. If you don't have access to a hard copy, you can follow via the Star's Big12KC blog and also hit up the their website for all the material from the Sports pages. Coverage started today, games begin Thursday...

I'll post my Big 12 tourney picks tomorrow--a little warm-up before the big dance. If anyone's up for it, we can have a little preliminary pick 'em action right here, for braggin' rights.



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Irony at Heaven's Gate

The other day it struck me that the final judgment will be ironic in multiple ways. It is possible that I have jarring ideas of this nature more frequently than is strictly normal for a guy who always reads the Sports page first. I don't know, you tell me. Admitted, it's one reason I blog, to add some cogency to my distracted thought life.

I think there will be degrees of irony on the eschatological "Day of the Lord." This is when Jesus returns to the earth with all the regal swagger and political autocracy and militant divinity that most people wanted the first time, sporting expensive, jaw-dropping clothing like nothing anyone has seen before, and, if the biblical imagery is concrete, causing the sky to roll up like a yanked mini blind. Also, if Mark Driscoll is correct, we will see Jesus sporting a tattoo down his calf that will inspire both fear and dread. Wait and see on that one. There will be a lot to see, is what I'm getting at. But even more to feel.

What stoked this slow-moving train of thought was a verse from Matthew 19, where Jesus explains that everyone who loses wealth or power or respect or family--in short, anything--for the sake of God's kingdom, will receive, not only eternal life, but "a hundred-fold" return on their sacrifice. At the end of this affirming dialog, almost as an afterthought, Jesus adds: "But many who are first will be last, and the last first." I wonder if he said it quietly, with a regretful eeriness in his voice. Because it changes the tone of the whole scene, instantly.

It made me think what a shock it will be to see some of the big shot Christians scraping into Heaven by their teethskins while some of the mousy nobodies who didn't seem to be very impressive dudes, who preferred prayer to pontificating, and probably weren't cool enough to blog or grow interesting facial hair (cue: self-deprecating humor), are revealed as heroes.

Next I thought about the quiet, seemingly unmotivated people who always stayed in the background and who will, in fact turn out to be exactly that: unmotivated people who stayed in the background. Just when everyone was expecting them to pull a Houdini and escape from their apparent "lastness." Nope, turns out they really were distracted and spiritually stupid. They weren't just acting.

Finally, I thought about the amazing people of God whose earthly faith and dedication was the genuine article after all, the ones we'll greet with happy sighs of relief: "So you won't be 'the last' after all. You had me worried there for a minute, man."

And then I wondered which line I will be standing in. As I see it, in the topsy-turvy realignment-to-reality of Heaven, there will be a couple kinds of irony that will make you laugh out loud, and a couple that will bring the ache of regret, despite it being Heaven after all.

Christ, help me hug the role of a privileged servant, motivated by love, focused on those people who aren't me, whether I stay a little man or somehow get shoved up to sweat under the heat lamps.



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Monday, March 10, 2008

Gearing Up for the Big 12 Tournament

If we had the cash, we would definitely be hanging around the Sprint Center in Kansas City's new Power & Light district later this week when the Big 12 Tournament rolls into town.

The Jayhawks have the #2 seed behind Texas (identical records, but UT won the lone head-to-head game) and is looking for a rematch while chasing a #1 NCAA Tournament seed. The tournament resumes of 5 other Big 12 teams are on the line as well, so bracketology punditry (that's fun to say) will be rampant.

We live about ten minutes from the arena, so the pain of not being there is intense, almost as great as, say, being an MU basketball fan right now.

Fortunately, we do have our minor consolations. Like getting geared up. Asher is pumped. At least I think that's Asher, although he's looking a lot like a four-month-old Joe Thorn these days.

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Indiana Jones Movie Restoration

The Indiana Jones movies played a significant role back in my early years, especially at "slumber parties" (oxymoron), to the degree that my friends and I were forced to tackle a very formidable First Order question, but completely lacked the internal resources to answer it: How can you make a fear-inspiring, eight-foot whip out of supplies commonly found in your mom's kitchen drawer?

Needless to say...we're looking forward to this movie. Aidan, Asher and I have our sleeping bags and caffeinated beverages ready, and we are expecting a lot.



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Sunday, March 09, 2008

God's Subjective, Internal, Dependable Will

Recently I was mulling over the topic of "God's will," and came to the conclusion that in some ways I've started thinking like an empiricist: Show me the evidence. Give me an authoritative endorsement. Show me the pile of material data that makes "God's will" make sense--otherwise, it may be just a whim.

I'm not saying that external confirmation of what we perceive as divine direction is not helpful or necessary, merely that to depend on it reflexively is a reversal of priorities. In my case, it's the insidious desire for a burning bush growing up from the stump where I had supposedly lopped it off. How is that even possible? I wrote an article about not needing a burning bush, so clearly I should have mastered that by now. Ha ha...

I think I've rightly emphasized the sufficiency of God's word for guidance, but inadvertently devalued the way God often chooses to speak to us in personal, internal, undeniably subjective ways. I get tired of hearing people play the "God's will" card as a mandate to do whatever they feel inclined to do at the moment--but the reality is, abuses don't change the fact that God frequently does speak personally, internally, to the person who wants to hear from him. Discernment is required, but discernment doesn't erase genuine, biblically-aligned experience.

After all, Jesus' kingdom resides in the hearts of his followers these days. So the heart is one place that his kingdom directives will resonate. What I'm concluding is this: If you find a specific, persistent, nagging desire to serve Christ that kind of burns a hole in your chest like a hot brick of charcoal, you should follow through.

I guess ultimately this is a faith issue. Our Father really does care about us enough to put ideas in our heads, desires in our hearts, and then affirm them. He doesn't want us to be flying blind. That foundational level of trust--the belief that God doesn't want us to choose our life path by throwing darts at a map--frees us up to sense what God is doing in our spirits, believe that this "soul work" is legit, and put it in front of other people.

Even without that empirical data, that burning bush.



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Saturday, March 08, 2008

iMonk on the "C-Word"

Michael Spencer addresses some of the confusing issues that continue to surround the (mis)understanding of what "contextualization" actually means when it comes to Christians interacting with their cultures. Spencer uses some perplexing comments by John MacArthur to get the discussion started.



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Recently Overheard on CBS...

"In the last several days, the Big 12 has moved ahead of the ACC to take the nation's number one RPI ranking."

Nice work. This will definitely help the Big 12's NCAA Send Six campaign. I had a mini-celebration right there on the couch.

To those of you who are as interested in college basketball as recreational feng shui, I apologize. Every year when March rolls around I start spouting stats, predictions, and players names and I just can't seem to help myself. I promise the obsession will wind down within a month.

But for the rest of you, the ones who have successfully identified God's favorite sport, there's a bracket contest coming up...



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Friday, March 07, 2008

Derek Webb Live in Kansas City (Concert Review)

45 minutes into our 10 minute drive, we were becoming convinced that the forces of darkness did not want us to see Derek Webb playing live at Shoal Creek Community Church. Either that or Yahoo maps. Regardless of who exactly was responsible, we decided to screw 'em and go anyway. So after an hour of mistaken routes, single lane highways, non-existent exits, road construction, two-mile-U-turns, and some very childish venting, we arrived at the concert 25 minutes late and nonchalantly sauntered in.

We did the right thing. We are happy that we went to the concert instead of going somewhere to morosely drink coffee. Derek is very good in person.

Despite having been a fairly staunch fan of Derek ever since his debut with Caedmon's Call, this was the first time I'd heard him live, and he confirmed my impression that he's an immensely talented musician, even when playing acoustic guitar by himself. (I think the songwriting chops are evident to anyone who's heard his lyrics.) After the concert, I was explaining to a friend that Derek Webb's stock had gone up in my book after seeing him in person.

Throughout the relaxed set, Derek chatted at length about his songs--the rationale behind them, how they got written, the gist of their messages. I liked the fact that he played stuff as far back as "Faith My Eyes" and "Table for Two" (I used to play that one a lot) from 40 Acres by Caedmon's Call--and talked about them. Lindsay thought he should have shut up and played a few more, but for the most part, I was grateful for the chance to get a better idea of what Derek's about.

Derek Webb's first two solo albums (She Must and Shall Go Free and I See Things Upside Down) are my favorites because I think they're more unique stylistically (folk/bluegrass and experimental rock, respectively) and more varied lyrically. His last couple albums, Mockingbird and The Ringing Bell, have had more overtly political agendas, and although Derek has always been something of an activist, he's come off as increasingly preachy in my opinion--which gets kind of old.

Listening to Webb in person, I discovered that, yes, he does get kind of preachy at times, especially when talking about a holistic gospel that is physical/spiritual, doesn't overvalue "individual salvation," and doesn't hold its breath at election times. However, that stridency is offset by Derek's humility, affability, and off-the-cuff humor. Seeing him in person helped me get past his prophetic outcast persona, which he does kind of play up, and appreciate the fact that he's a passionate guy who has a lot of the same concerns I do.

Derek served up several good sound-bytes, but my favorites involved the church's relationship to culture, where he made some great points. Highlights:

  • How come "Christian" art only deals with the loftiest, most "spiritual" 2% of life? What about the rest of life, the hard, the dirty, the ugly? Artists who are Christians should feel freedom to write or depict any aspect of life that falls under God's dominion. Hint: That's everything.
  • There's a completely false idea that culture with a "Christian" label on it is innately good and pure. If anything, "Christian" culture is guaranteed to be secular, because it's being made by people who have problems, know they have problems, are seeking help with their problems, and may very well reveal those problems in their art.
  • A lot of young people are being trained in their churches to react to their cultures out of fear (Don't do this, Don't watch that, Don't go there) rather than entering with discernment to know and serve their outsider friends. This is a manipulative way to form young people, it short-circuits gospel work, and ultimately there will be fallout as children grow older and react to their wrong formation--perhaps overreact.
Lindsay and I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to hear Derek play live. He's a guy with an agenda that sometimes gets gratingly political, but he's also transparent, and I appreciate his heart for the church. As far as one-dude-with-a-guitar shows go, you won't do much better.

If you want to hear Derek Webb's newest stuff, you can listen to streaming audio from Ampersand, the EP he just released with wife Sandra McCracken (not exactly typical DW, circa 21st century, but still very good).
Person Derek Webb
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Cappuccino Thief

Aidan and Asher work like a pick-pocket team from Oliver Twist. Asher handles the delay and distract action while Aidan moves in for the quick slurp. Our friend Scott was totally unprepared for the onslaught.



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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Today's NCAA Bracket Analysis

[UPDATE:] Here are my 2008 NCAA Tournament Picks.

Who's in and who's out varies from day to day, depending on who you ask, as conference seasons are winding down. In his latest assessment of the NCAA tournament field, Jeff Goodman has Texas A&M in, Oklahoma in, and Baylor on the line. He also thinks that Kentucky has secured a spot with their win at South Carolina--good news for Billy Gillespie, since a lot of people had written Kentucky off this year.

I'm going to stick to my guns and say that Baylor makes the cut, along with A&M, Oklahoma, K-State, Texas, and KU.



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Rationale Behind Clover Coffee

When people talk about the Clover coffee machine, they typically focus on its $11000 price tag but fail to understand the rationale behind the precisely calibrated brewing machine. Understandable, in my opinion, but it misses the point. The Clover exists because of specific developments in the coffee industry. Espresso News and Reviews explains:

A new brewer doesn’t change how we think about coffee. In fact, the only reason the Clover brewer exists is because the coffee itself is getting better; the nuanced flavors and aromas these higher-grade coffees produce won’t otherwise be lost on a precision machine like the Clover. But considering the origins of the beans and the roasting styles applied to them, not every coffee makes sense in a Clover — just as not every coffee makes sense as an espresso. A good microscope and a good telescope may both require precision optics to effectively refract light, but I wouldn’t use the same device to examine both the heavens and the structure of cells.

If you have the opportunity, try a cup of Clover coffee. Especially with a Cup of Excellence brew. You'll notice the difference.



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Tim Keller Speaks at Google

Justin Buzzard chronicles yet another of the benefits of being a Google employee, at least in the San Francisco area. Tim Keller's The Reason for God is next in line on my reading list.



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Words with Good Mouth-Feel

From AllEyesOnJenny comes this unabashed word-love:

Once I did a list of the grossest words to say, now I’m countering that with fun words to say:

Onomatopoeia
Cacology
Nuance
Undulate
Symposium
Loquacious
Facetious
Phlebotomist
Superfluous
Trabajabamos** (Yeah I know it’s Spanish, but it still applies.)
Nefarious
Abominable
Discombobulate
Disingenuous
Lackadaisical
Archipelago
Guacamole … closely followed by …
Avocado
Oblivion
Usurp
Plethora
Shank

Lindsay and I discussed this carefully, and we would add:
  1. Perspicacious
  2. Discombobulate
  3. Zinfandel
  4. Whimsy
  5. Scuttlebutt
  6. Smack
Aidan contributed:
  1. Marshmanannow (similar to a "Marshmallow," but with more complex flavors)
  2. Vanderhorst
Asher added:
  1. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
He's such a Spoon fan. However, we voted to take exception to "Trabajabamos." Very questionable... True, it is a lot of fun to say, but it has no English usage, and the Wikipedia entry is absolutely no help. Out!! ;) What are your faves?

HT: 22 Words



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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Sam Storms: In Christ, In Kansas City

I'm enjoying Sam Storms' thoughts about "in-Christness" in his book on Colossians, The Hope of Glory. Admittedly, his descriptions have an extra element of sweetness when he gives a nod to Kansas City, where he lives. (I wonder if he frequents the local coffee shops.)

And remember: it is in Kansas City or Chicago or Dallas or whatever geographical location you call home that you are in Christ. They are true simultaneously. You do not live in Christ only while you are at church, on your knees, or in a home group, then return to being simply in your city when you leave that more holy atmosphere. Your "in-Christness" is not simply a heavenly reality that obtains only somewhere up there. You are in Christ even when you are in sin, although the reality of the former ought to progressively diminish your experience of the latter! What an indescribably privilege and joy: to be a saint, in Christ, in Kansas City! - The Hope of Glory, 22

Well said, sir.
Person Sam Storms
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Ode to Mysterious Espresso

O anonymous espresso beans,
mail-ordered by the visiting brother of our friend,
arriving after his transcontinental departure,
passed on to me through sheer good will
and because God knows I love my coffee:
I do not know your blend,
your roaster, or your point of origin,
only that you glimmer with oily luster in the bag,
only that you burst tiger-striped from the portafilter,
only that you cascade with abundant crema into my cup,
delivering a double shot of espresso
whose sophisticated, fragrant tastiness is surpassed
only by its air of mystery.



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Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife