This is a new semi-weekly column from Leitch. It has words, and pictures. It's called Ten Humans Of The Week. It might or might not work. But here it is.
Two years ago, I wrote a piece for the sadly defunct PLAY Magazine about mathemeticians trying to crack the NCAA Tournament code. They didn't have much more luck at it than you or I did: Ultimately, they said the best predictions are made, amusingly, by Vegas odds. It's Wisdom Of Crowds at its best: Individually we know nothing, collectively, we know something, though it's still not that much more than nothing.
My favorite tip, though, came from a man named Brad Carlin, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Minnesota. He said, essentially, you're better off not watching games at all. "The best handicappers are people who don't watch games," Carlin told me. "The brain is one of the least effective predictive machines we have." That is to say: We bring our own biases, and if we watched, say, Minnesota play well a couple of times, we're going to think they're better than they actually are.
I break this rule all the time. Particularly as the lone Big Ten defender left. I think the Big Ten is a far better conference than anyone gives it credit for — don't think it's ruining basketball as we know it — and I therefore overrate them every tournament. This year is no different: I have Michigan State in the Final Four, Purdue in the Elite Eight and the conference going 6-1 in the first round. (Michigan's the only team I have losing; I have Illinois falling to Gonzaga in the second round.)
The fun part of the predicting the NCAA Tournament is making bold predictions about teams that, by definition, you know absolutely nothing about. North Dakota State is a hot upset candidate this week, though I guarantee you not a single person has watched them play all year. And that's the irony: According to the experts, this makes you a better predictor. To be ignorant is to have no biases at all. No wonder sportswriters are always boasting how unbiased they are.
Pittsburgh's winning this whole thing, by the way. I saw them play a couple times, and I vaguely remember some highlights on "SportsCenter." So I know.
Geno Auriemma. Like most of you, I'm sure, I haven't watched any women's college basketball this year — I should therefore kill in the brackets — so it wasn't until a few weeks ago that I realized that what was happening with the Connecticut women's team. It is worth positing that this might be the single most dominant team in organized top-level sports over the last 25 years. Connecticut is 33-0 and have won by an average of 31 points a game. In the Big East Championship Game, they beat Louisville, supposedly the No. 5 team in the country, 75-36. It's like playing a video game on the rookie mode, but actually running a whole season that way without stopping because you're bored. Are there only 12 good players in women's college basketball and they all play for Connecticut? How does this happen? I think I'd really enjoy a women's college basketball steroid scandal, actually. By the way, at this point, I note my favorite factoid about Geno Auriemma: He said, just a couple of years ago, that he'd love to be a men's coach, but he can't get anyone to offer him a job. Can that possibly be true? On either side?
Jay Bilas. Watching Jay Bilas — an analyst I once loved, thanks mostly to his inspired, Bill Raftery-esque elation during the Illinois-Arizona Elite Eight game back in 2005 — turn into a Billy Packer-like grouchy crank over the last couple of years has been a thoroughly depressing experience. My guess: It started happening during the Duke lacrosse case. I think it legitimately turned Bilas — who took a lot of heat for defending the team before anyone else was — into someone who discovered that he hated everyone in the media, and most of the planet. (That case would do it.) Only this current incarnation of Bilas could turn Dick Vitale into a poor, doddering victim like he did on ESPN's telecast Sunday. Whoever you think is right in that scenario — and I think it's Vitale — Bilas went after him with a sniggering, mocking, oh-you-foolish-old-man vigor that was unmistakable in its smug dismissiveness. Ladies and gentlemen, your next Billy Packer. Shame, too: I loved Bilas in that Dolph Lundgren movie. "I come in peace ... you go in PIECES!"
Todd Bozeman. One of the fun human-interest stories — I love that we live in a journalism world where you have to designate stories as "human-interest" — of the NCAA Tournament involves Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman, who was essentially banned from coaching for eight years after paying players while at California. (Oh, also making "lewd" phone calls to a Cal undergrad. During his time in the wilderness, he served as a scout for the Vancouver Grizzlies. He obviously did a great job!) I'm not sure why this is something to be celebrated, but that's not why I love Todd Bozeman stories. I love Todd Bozeman stories because, while coaching Morgan State a couple of years ago, Bozeman threatened and "shook" a restaurant worker near the Longwood campus for giving his players sandwiches with ham and turkey. "I ain't scared of you country bumpkins. I want my . . . money back!" he screamed. Todd Bozeman does not like your pork or your poultry. Keep that in mind when filling out your pool sheets.
Lenny Dykstra. About a year or so ago, when Lenny Dykstra was showing up on HBO's "Real Sports" and telling the world he was a genius stockpicker, my old magazine asked me to write a story about him. I had no luck getting a hold of any of his people, and, in fact, had a hard time finding much proof that the magazine's staff existed at all. Therefore it wasn't surprising to see just how mercurial of a boss he turned out to be. (Of all the quotes in the Dykstra GQ story, the "spearchuckers" line is getting the play, but I'm fond of this exchange:
"I don't wear jewelry, except for this," he says. "It's the best in the world-costs sixty-five grand."
It's a nice watch-a Patek Philippe-but I have no idea what it has to do with Lenny's magazine or my qualifications for a job there. I just nod, and he goes on.
"You see, Kevin, The Players Club is not just a magazine. It's an actual club of players helping players. Do you want to be a part of the Players Club?"
Woo-hoo! Lenny Dykstra is Literal Man!)
I know this will seem a shock to hear, but it turns out, Lenny Dykstra — the wobbling, drunken, clearly-just-a-couple-steps-from-oblivion guy we've seen on our televisions — is not actually a genius at the market. Why did we think he was? Who was it that vouched for him? Oh, yeah: Jim Cramer! Of course! "He is one of the great ones in this business," Cramer said. Yep. He said that.
Davey Johnson. I thought Davey Johnson was supposed to be the "serious" World Baseball Classic manager. Do you realize, late in the United States' "win" over the Netherlands, he was going to put Ted Lilly in left field? Why, you ask? Todd Verducci had the scoop: Johnson "liked the way [Lilly] went after foul balls." Indeed! In the last week, Chipper Jones, Dustin Pedroia, Matt Lindstrom and Ryan Braun were all injured in the WBC, and I'm sure every team in baseball with a guy playing for the USA is begging them to lose tonight so everyone can come back home. It's like having guys under fire overseas. Johnson, for some reason, thought he was going to reverse this, stop the "embarrassment" of 2006's sixth-place finish. But a sixth-place finish is fine! We don't care! Did you see how few people were at this game? We're America! We don't even know other countries exist! (Until they pull their investments out of our country, anyway.) Please: Bring the troops home, Davey. Though keep Ted Lilly in left field: He's a Cub.
Harold Maxwell. It's important to remember, in this wintry economic climate, that the truly important research studies in the field of science are still taking place. I'd like to personally thank Harold Maxwell for teaching us about the sad, disfigured souls who sneeze when they have an orgasm. Some people, the study discovered, sneeze merely when they're feeling a little tinkle in their winkle, but others go the whole hog, blasting phlegm and saliva across the room as their own personal money shot. Good to know! From now on, I am going to assume the rest of humanity has this condition, thus guaranteeing me endless moments of private amusement when I offer random people tissues after they sneeze. It's the little things in life that get you through.
The Mighty MJD. Hey, suck on it, Joe Lunardi, Jerry Palm, whoever it is who did the projections for SI.com. (I assume Seth Davis saved his good stuff for CBS. They pay more.) There was one bracketologist who got every single team nailed, 65 out of 65, and that person was The Mighty MJD. Yeah! Suck it, rest of earth! I look forward to MJD taking over Lunardi's job on ESPN next year, where he will co-host a Bracketology 101 program with the elusive Muff Stubble Girl.
Kige Ramsey. We haven't heard from our old pal Kige in a while, though I guess he's still doing videos. Even though he wears Kentucky Wildcats garb in all his on-spot reporting for YouTube Sports, he's actually a student at Western Kentucky ... hated foe of my beloved Illini! Even though a little part of me worries whether or not Kige is gonna be able to stay up late enough for the 9:55 ET start Thursday night, I've decided to personally call him out right now. If Illinois wins, he has to shave his head and break up with Nicole Richie. If Western Kentucky wins, I will hit myself in the face with a cookie sheet. Though, as mental penance for what I did to Daulerio, I do that every day anyway.
Le Anne Schreiber. By the end, ESPN had buried her so low down on the page that no one would have noticed this, but everyone's crush-worthy ESPN ombudswoman has hung up her red pencil. In her last column, she wrote, "When I cast my mind back over two years of mail, searching for that taproot, the first word that came to mind was "arrogance." That wasn't the word most frequently used by fans, but accusations of arrogance were implicit in the many complaints I received about specific anchors who imposed their personalities on the news, announcers who elevated their own chatter over the game at hand, commentators who leapt to the absolute in a single shout, columnists who heaped scorn on minor sports or minor markets, and the relentless corporate "me, me, me" of multiplatform cross-promotion." Which is probably why her last column was down at the bottom of the page, next to the Bassmaster Elite Series and the National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. We'll miss you. Suggestion for next ombudsperson hire: Mike Freeman! Or me. I'd do it!
Isiah Thomas. Wondering what Isiah has been up to? He is, after all, still on the Knicks' payroll, playing his own little AIG guy as the executive Madison Square Garden pays to stay away from the team. Well, he hasn't tried to kill himself again: He's actually scouting and helping the team prepare for the NBA Draft. Part of me thinks this is a good idea — drafting is the one managerial role he ever showed any proficiency at — and the other part makes me worry that he shouldn't be left alone on the road for that long. Best part of the Associated Press story about the incident: He was in Las Vegas last week filming a television appearance with Bob Knight and Billy Packer. Boy, now there's a party.