Monday, December 7, 2015

Raising and Lowering the Bar

  It appears the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls single season record of 72-10 is in serious jeopardy for the first time in 20 years. The defending champion Golden State Warriors have started the season 22-0 which means they can lose three games and still be ahead of the Bulls pace. Not only are the Warriors setting their sights on the all-time best regular season record they are also taking aim at the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers record winning streak of 33 games in a row. The Warriors are in the middle of a seven game road trip with tough games in Toronto and Indiana as part of back to back games before heading home with the Cleveland Cavaliers being the last big test on Christmas Day. I don’t think the Warriors will be able to win 13 more games without running into a team that is playing out of their minds or having a cold shooting night from MVP Stephen Curry but I didn’t think they would start the season with 21 straight wins and here they are.

  The New England Patriots most recent attempt to join the looked to be on target to join the 1972-73 Miami Dolphins as the only perfect team in NFL went by the wayside last week when they lost to the Denver Broncos in overtime. In 2007 the Patriots were 18-0 before losing the Super Bowl to the New York Giants in the most serious challenge to the Dolphins record to date. The Patriots loss left the Carolina Panthers as the last remaining challenger to perfection with their 12-0 start. The Panthers remaining five games include zero games against teams with winning records (there is a home and home with the 6-6 Atlanta Falcons and a home finale against the 6-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers). On paper it looks like the Panthers will go 16-0. I don’t believe the Panthers will be able to finish a perfect season. While they have a great defense and an efficient offense led by MVP Cam Newton I’ve seen Newton go high and wide on short passes a number of times which I expect to be very costly come playoff time.

  I wouldn’t have minded seeing the 2007-2008 Patriots go undefeated (if they hadn’t had to play my favorite Giants in the Super Bowl). I won’t mind seeing the Golden State Warriors rewrite the NBA record book or even seeing the Panthers go 19-0. At the same time there is a part of me that likes to think that when I saw the Dolphins and Bulls play that I was witnessing something once in a lifetime special but it is also possible that this years Panthers or Warriors are also once in a lifetime special even though I’m not seeing it in the Panthers.

  In chess new records are set all the time. Most of them are age related. Last year Samuel Sevian became the youngest American Grandmaster at the age of 13 years 10 months and 27 days. Before that he was the youngest American International Master at the age of 12 years 10 months and 16 days. Chasing close behind Sevian is Wisconsin’s Awonder Liang. I became acquainted with Awonder and his family when his dad Will took him to three chess tournaments I directed in 2013 and 2014. Last month Awonder broke Sevian’s record for America’s youngest ever International Master by claiming the title at the age of 12 years 7 months and 16 days. I am happy for Awonder breaking the record but at the same time I feel sorry for him. He has a mere 15 months to attempt to become America’s youngest chess Grandmaster and is already being chased by Connecticut’s Maximillian Lu who recently broke Awonder’s record as the youngest American chess master by 12 days, claiming the title at the age if 9 years 11 months and 2 days. Liang also took that record from Sevian who attained master status at the age of 9 years 11 months and 24 days for those who keep track of such things.

  I thought I had found a trend that the bar for achievement is getting higher and higher until I noticed n Saturday that the Texas Longhorns college football team defeated the 12th ranked Baylor Bears on Saturday to close their season with 5-7 mark. The reason I thought Texas had closed their season was that I was under the impression that a team needed to win six wins to become bowl-eligible. For example on Saturday the Kansas State Wildcats beat the West Virginia Hokies in their season finale to even their record a 6-6 with the headline saying “Kansas State earns bowl eligibility, knocks off West Virginia”. But instead the Texas game article discussed the possibility of the Longhorns going to a bowl.

  What I didn’t understand was that not being bowl-eligible doesn’t mean a team isn’t eligible for a bowl. There are 40 bowl games this year and only 77 teams that have the six wins required to be bowl eligible. I would have expected some of these bowls to be cancelled or one of the many teams in the minor league FCS with six wins to get a shot at a bowl game but instead the NCAA is going to allow teams with five wins to go to bowls based on their Academic Progress Rate which grades schools on the percentage of their student-athletes that receive financial aid, stay in school, and remain academically eligible. Schools that fail to keep a large percentage of their athletes in school and eligible are penalized with the loss of practice time up to postseason ineligibility.

  The NCAA is going to allow the five win teams with the highest Academic Progress Rate to fill the bowl slots left open by the lack of teams with at least an even record. Isn’t it nice of the NCAA to factor in Academic Progress in deciding who gets the scraps from the bowl table? Since a losing team is a losing team is a losing team wouldn’t it be even nicer to let the losing teams with the highest Academic Progress Rate no matter how many wins they have? The losing teams that maintain high academic standards would have a chance at going to a bowl game. In any event I was happy to see the bar being lowered in at least one aspect of society to give the rest of us low achievers a chance at the rewards of high achievement without having to achieve much of anything.

  The bar was neither raised or lowered were my basketball predictions after Friday Night's split. I picked the Nets to cover the three point spread and they were 20 down at the end of the first quarter. Luckily the Pistons bailed me out with a 7 point win over the Bucks which barely covered the 6 point spread. Splitting the picks brought my mythical winnings down $10 to $620 and my season record remains +7 at 15-8-1. As usual I will be making tonight’s picks using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only with no real money wagered.

Phoenix Suns at Chicago Bulls
The Bulls have won 2 out of 3 on their current home stand and will host the Phoenix Suns who have the last four games of their six game road trip that ends tonight. The Bulls beat the Suns in Phoenix two weeks ago by six points and the Suns played in Memphis yesterday so I will take the Bulls for $110 and give the six points to the Suns to win $100

Los Angeles Lakers at Toronto Raptors
After another blowout loss to the Pistons yesterday, the Lakers head to Toronto where the Raptors looked like the second best team in the league on Saturday night. Unfortunately for Toronto they happened to be playing the best team in the league and lost by three to the Warriors. I predict the Raptors will take out their frustrations on the Lakers and will bet $110 to win $100 that they will cover the 13 point spread.