Wednesday, March 18, 2009

FENECH | Think you can win your NCAA bracket pool? Good luck

Issue date: 3/18/08

By Anthony Fenech

Hey, you over there, the one who's huddled around a bracket, agonizing over the LSU-Texas game?

You're not winning.

And you, the one who keeps flip-flopping your Final Four teams because you think there are too many top seeds?

Yeah, you're not winning your bracket pool either.

And for those of you who find it way too difficult to pick half of your match-ups, instead opting for the "Aw, shucks, I'll just make another bracket" route to bracket glory?

Well, you've already lost.

Let me explain. Literally every person in America - yes, every single one - will join millions of people entering millions of bracket pools trying to win millions of dollars.

Some of those people will fill out more than one bracket.

Now, I know those statements to be true because last year, my mom came home from work one day and informed me that she had entered not only one but two brackets in her work pool.

That very moment represented the two things that I resent the most about NCAA Tournament bracket pools: Someone with as little sports knowledge as my mother can win, and people fill out more than one bracket.

To a college basketball fan, the NCAA Tournament is a final exam that you can't pass. Since November, you have watched game after game after game, storing the players and teams you see into the back of your head for March Madness.

Year after year after year, you come up empty-handed; left to wonder how someone that doesn't know what the initials VCU stand for can win. (What, too soon?)

But that's exactly the fuel that makes the tournament the biggest sports gambling draw besides the Super Bowl. You can win by analyzing every statistic and you can win by simply closing your eyes and circling the winners. But remember, thinking you can win at all will just set your heart up for disappointment - because you can't.

Which brings us to my least favorite group of people this side of the Facebook employees who thought it'd be a good idea to make the world upset: Those who think they can win by playing more brackets.

You can spot these people quite easily by hearing them say something like, "Well, I picked Duke in my first bracket, not in my second or third, but in my fourth, too, so I'm cool."

It's pretty much the most un-American-American move there is: You take the easy way out on picking a winner (un-American) all for the sake of better odds at the bucks (American).

So I'm convinced there are two different types of people in the world: those who fill out one bracket and those who fill out more than one.

And when it comes down to it, they both lose.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

You need to plot an A-Rod strategy before you draft

By Anthony Fenech • Free Press Special Writer

In the world of fantasy baseball, there are no absolutes.

Players who aren’t supposed to get hurt will get hurt. Players who are expected to break out won’t break out. Players you didn’t think juiced will admit to juicing. You get the point.

But as we approach the stretch run of the 2009 draft season, there is one absolute that you can count on: Alex Rodriguez will find you.

He’ll find you at the beginning of rounds and at the end of rounds. He’ll find you anywhere from the first to the fourth round, and he might even stop by to introduce himself in the second round just so you don’t forget about him in the third -- if he’s there.

A-Rod was a player whose name had “sure thing” attached to it. In years past, his name flew off of the draft board within the top three picks, many times as the No. 1 selection.

This year, in light of Monday’s hip surgery that will sideline him six weeks or more, owners will agonize until the last second about whether the risk is worth it. Many will pass, and few will capitalize.

To explain, let’s rewind to last spring, when St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols was in a similar injury bubble.

In the weeks leading up to the draft, it was no secret that there was a torn ligament in Pujols' elbow. After dealing with it through the latter half of 2007, Pujols muttered the three dreaded words -- playing through injury -- in the spring.

In meteorological terms, the elbow was more of a warning than a watch. In fantasy terms, Pujols was a ticking time bomb, an early round pick that would destroy an entire team by going to waste halfway through the season.

Owner after owner passed on the slugger. Naturally, Pujols went on to play a relatively injury-free 2008 campaign (the only hiccup was a strained calf that sat him out for just over two weeks in June) and proved to be the most valuable hitter in fantasy baseball.

This year, it’s A-Rod’s turn. The situation is different because he has been all but ruled out for the first month of the season but similar because of the off-season surgery that doctors say is required to complete the procedure.

Last season, Rodriguez missed 25 games, mostly due to a quadriceps injury. That roughly equates to about a month of play. Even with the month lost, he still belted 35 homers, tops among third base-eligible players this season.

For the price you may be able to get him at now -- Rodriguez dropped from first to 31st in’s March 5 rankings -- it would be a wise choice to throw all of the extracurricular distractions out of the window and plainly debate risk and reward.

Is the reward you get from Rodriguez performing like a top-five player worth that second- or third-round pick? Or is the risk of the injury making him an average performer too costly?

If it’s the former, who will you draft that will get you through the first month at third base? If it’s the latter, can you handle second-guessing yourself for an entire summer?

You might pass on him once, you might pass on him twice or you might pass on him altogether. You might stick your neck out and reap the rewards or get laughed at.

But one thing’s for sure: A-Rod is going to find you. He’s going to be yours for the taking at one point in your draft, and you had better be prepared for meeting him.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

FENECH | Spring break? Bah!

Issue date: 3/4/09

By Anthony Fenech

Every now and then, someone will drop a line that leaves you absolutely and positively speechless.

It's the kind of line that hits like a perfect storm of confusion and comedy - an eyebrow-raising, jaw-dropping comment that is most often responded to with a crooked look or an unsure chuckle.

"Are they trying to be funny?" you wonder. "Or did they really say that?"

So here's a fair warning: In the next paragraph I am that person, saying four words that may or may not permanently give me the reputation as the most uncool person on campus. I realize this. Just save the looks, all right?

I despise spring break.

Call me a loser, call me lifeless or call me just plain stupid. Tell me that I'm the lamest thing this side of the game. Because it's true - I just don't like spring break and never have.

I am Ebenezer Scrooge, pent up miserably in a beach-side condo as the air conditioning runs, jealously ignoring the annual college holiday. It's not the Ghost of Christmas Past that visits me regularly in March; it's the Ghost of Spring Breaks Past.

The tale begins in a classroom years ago with a daydreaming kid, a student planner and a pen. It was my junior year of high school and I had grown tired of hearing about the same giddy anticipation from the same kids who went to the same warm places and had the same fun that I didn't.

Sitting in class, I flipped from page to page and from number to number, counting down the days until my senior spring break the next year. The next fall, I picked up where I left off and finished before lunch time on the first day of school.

"CANCUN," my planner read in big, block letters under the date of March 27.

Two months later, both planner and spring break dreams were in the trash - don't ask - replaced by a permanent scar that burns every time the words 'spring' and 'break' accompany each other.

So have fun in Miami, Panama City and Cancun. Have fun in the heat, on the beaches and in the water. Laugh at your stories and bask in your tans. I'd rather be here.

I'd rather be here, waking up to a few inches of snow on the ground, having the blistering wind kiss my face and, in general, having a miserable week filled with envy from afar.

Besides, how can you appreciate the beautiful 55-degree Michigan weather when you were lounging in the '80s a couple of weeks before?

So to you, The Ghost of Spring Breaks Present, the beer-bonging, MTV-hawking and sun-bathing spring breaker, who enjoys the weeklong festival of happiness that has ever eluded me, I have one thing to say:

Bah, humbug!

Spring break, you have and always will be my least favorite holiday.

That is, until I meet the Ghost of Spring Breaks Yet to Come.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Lifshitz and Mabil win events, men's track team finishes fourth at MAC Championships

Issue date: 3/2/09

By Anthony Fenech
Staff Reporter

If someone would have told men's track coach Jim Knapp that his team was going to set 13 personal records at the Mid-American Conference Championships, he would have felt good about his team's chances.

But despite that becoming a reality this weekend at Kent State, the team could only manage a fourth-place finish. The Chippewas finished with 64 points, behind the host Golden Flashes (159), Akron (132) and Eastern Michigan (109).

"I thought our guys did a great job," Knapp said. "With all of the personal records, it was our best performance of the year."

Sophomore Oz Lifshitz and junior Riak Mabil were the team's two winners, taking the triple jump and 5,000-meter run, respectively.

Lifshitz jumped 15.19 meters in the finals to take the triple jump victory and nearly scored in his first Mid-American Conference meet as a long jumper, placing seventh in the event. Mabil won his event by finishing in 14 minutes, 43 seconds and felt the team's performance was solid. Finishing just under two seconds behind Mabil was junior Jacob Korir.

"Everybody did good," Mabil said. "There wasn't anything we could have done better."

He mentioned the team's youth and continued, "We knew we were capable of personal records and it was just about doing it at the right time."

Asked about the unusual correlation between so many personal bests and a fourth-place finish, Knapp said, "It's all about the numbers." He noted the teams ahead of the Chippewas had substantially more athletes to compete in the events than his team.

"It falls on me," he continued. "I need to do a better job of recruiting."

Other notable performances from the meet were freshman Larry Dawkins and senior Larry Dawkins, who finished in third and fifth place, respectively, in the 60-meter dash. Junior Dave Ashcraft also finished second in the 400m dash and the men's distance medley finished in fourth place.

The meet finished the indoor season for CMU, the team will participate in light workouts this week and rest over spring break to get prepared for the outdoor season, which Knapp has often referred to as the stronger of the two for the program.

"I thought we competed," he said, summing up the season in a few words. "We might have been on the short end in terms of our numbers of athletes, but we always competed hard."