February 2, 2009 2:43 pm ET by Kyle Whelliston
CHICAGO -- So much of modern life is blocking, filtering, limiting. There is so much information coming at us every day that we must become fighters of information, lest it overwhelm and submerge us completely. We battle back with fast-forward buttons, delete keys, spam-guards, RSS newsreaders, trusted conduits, earphones. We achieve small victories, but never truly win.
Some information is so large and pervasive, like a noxious cloud that hovers and consumes everyone. The identity of the winning team in the national professional championship of fake gladiator combat, and the final scoreline, are two such pieces of data. I've made it my goal every year to hold out as long as possible, and every year I find it's harder and harder to hide.
One place not to hide from the Super Bowl is a truck stop (unless that truck stop is in Southern California). At 5:30 p.m. Central yesterday, typing away at a Flying J restaurant booth in Effingham, Ill. I heard the grunts and squeals from the nearby driver's lounge. That was my cue to pay the bill quickly and exit; after driving around the cluster of roadside businesses for a few minutes, I found a lonely Starbucks with a pretty girl behind the counter. This was a safe place for the duration of the evening.
Another safe place is a hotel in Meadville, Pa. (the second spiritual capital of The Mid-Majority), where I drew the blinds and lurking in the darkness for two long days last year. Another is a car, hurtling down the backroads of Missouri under a spattering of stars, with the radio off. Each of those, though, is a temporary haven, and each has a definite checkout time. There's only so long that room service and fast-food windows can keep one fed... at some point, humanity has to be faced.
At the airport, with hat pulled down and coat drawn tight and sunglasses on, white earbuds in to ward off the idle chatter I so often am drawn into. I walked across the terminal, head down except for quick glances at directional signage. No eye contact, no walking past newsstands (Monday is always the toughest), and yes, a very suspicious appearance. A mental checklist of incidents most likely to cause failure: the baggage check-in line, the wait at the gate, the ticket handover. The TSA checkpoint is designed to be as sterile and same as possible; that's the time to let down the guard and take a deep breath.
Check, check, check. Each test passed with the precision and accuracy of a true expert, one who's mastered the art of Super Bowl information blocking. My confidence surged, my heart floated. For an hour, I sat facing the corner, peering down at my unanswered BlackBerry blinking red in my shirt pocket. I knew my inbox was full of jokesters wanting to be the first to deliver the news I so longed to avoid. Just like last year.
As we passengers boarded the Southwest plane, I shuffled down the aisle, head down, earbuds full of a death-metal playlist as to completely block out any and all idle chatter amongst the crew or other passengers, who were perhaps discussing all their favorite plays from the Big Game. I moved to a seat in the far back of the half-full 737, peeking above the chairline to make sure there were no protruding newspapers. I slunk down, my spine coiled.
Then, as per federal law, I removed my earbuds and turned off my iPod, as it's on the list of approved electronic devices not approved for use during the pre-flight announcements.
"Our flight to Chicago Midway will be one hour and five minutes," the peppy flight attendant chirped into the handheld microphone. And then, "Do we have any Steeler fans on board?"
"Whoo!" cried out a couple of male passengers.
Fifteen hours, 52 minutes. That's all I could manage this year. The record, which still stands at three days (Wednesday), will have to wait until 2010. Next time, I'll know not to fly... the only way to become the Last Man in America to know who won the Super Bowl is to go underground.
Just another weekly FYI about the teams that are making life terribly boring for others in their respective conferences. Siena is three and a half games up on the rest of the MAAC with an 11-0 record, and will probably be the first team in Hoops Nation to claim a regular-season championship. Davidson, never immune to close calls, is 11-0 in the SoCon after eking out a 55-52 win at Samford thanks to impeccable foul shooting. Northern Iowa (10-1) is still three games ahead of the pack in the Bizarro Valley after a four-point win at suddenly certified "tough out" Indiana State (in last place, at 2-9). And Utah State is blowing through its league like a weed-WAC'er, running a 9-0 mark and a 16-game overall win streak.
West Coast: All hail your second place Portland Pilots (6-1), who washed out Saint Mary's in a watershed G!O!T!N! win on Saturday, routing the Patty Mills-less Gaels 84-66. SMC got out to a fast start, but Portland was able to get out of any tough situation by dialing long distance. As we mentioned earlier, few teams nationally are as dangerous from 3-land as the Pilots, who went 11-for-18 (Jared Stohl had six of those) on Saturday. The third-place Gaels (5-2) happen to be the WCC's only BracketBusters participant, thanks to head coach Randy Bennett's insistence to play -- we intend to honor ESPN's info-embargo, BTW -- and seriously, wouldn't that be the kind of thing that would help introduce Portland to a larger audience?
Horizon League: The Butler Bulldogs (10-0) spent their Friday night with 6,623 of their closest friends, entertaining Valparaiso and their screaming yellow zonkers uniforms. And while some impartial observers weren't impressed by the fightback-fest that resulted in a free throw-padded 59-51 Butler win, scoring margin has always been a poor indicator of character. At no point did Butler lose its composure or start freaking out, like teams full of freshmen are supposed to do. This team takes after its head coach, Mr. Brad Stevens, who seems to get ruffled less often than President Obama.
Atlantic Sun: On Friday night, the A-Sun featured a fantastic showcase of 9-1 teams when East Tennessee State traveled to Jacksonville. Dolphin guard Ben Smith thrilled the home crowd by draining a 3 with 10 seconds left in regulation to cap a comeback from a 10-point halftime deficit; then JU sprinted away in overtime, allowing a stunned Bucs squad just four points in an 82-72 final. There was a quick turnaround for both teams: ETSU squeaked past North Florida 67-64 to finish up its Florida swing, but the emotionally spent Dolphins fell behind 15-4 at home to USC Upstate (4-8) and lost by 11. So we're right back where we started, with both frontrunners at 10-2 (three-time champion Belmont is just a half-game behind at 9-2). Do-over?
Tomorrow: Patriot, Ivy, MEAC, SWAC.
U'useless Stat of the Day
In the SWAC on Saturday, two teams with losing records faced off: Southern won at Alcorn State in overtime, 86-83. Just another score on the ticker, but when you take a closer look at the enhanced boxscore, you can see that there was a distinct contrast in speed. Alcorn pushed the tempo a big more than Southern did, and the Braves had 78 possessions to work with as opposed to the Jaguars' 71. The visitors won because they used those possessions much more effectively and efficiently, scoring 1.21 points each time.
Such a difference in possession count, the kind that makes a different analytical language so crucial, is not as common as one would think... very few games feature one team shooting within seven seconds and the other using every tick of the 35 second clock, or such an overwhelming margin on the boards that one team's possession count is bloated and inflated. A full 90 percent of Division I games so far this year (2,574 of 2,869) have had a difference of four possessions or less. It's an important advantage that can easily swing close games.
Only 52 have had an equal possession margin to Alcorn-Southern or greater.
And yes, we have the answer. The widest gap in possessions (we use the Pomeroy method) in the 2008-09 season came on Jan. 17 in the grand old Badlands Conference, when Southern Utah out-gapped visiting South Dakota State by 12 in an 80-75 overtime win. This was not mentioned in any of the game recaps. The Jackrabbits, as per their moniker, were fast (76 possessions) and got off 60 shots in a losing effort. The Thunderbirds, which share a name with a gas-guzzling American automobile, used 64. Not exactly this, but close.
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