Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Frozen Four and Final Four Picks

I love hockey, especially college hockey, and it was a good weekend for the sport. On Sunday, the NCAA brackets were revealed for the Men's Division I tournament, or as I like to call it, the real March Madness. Michigan secured the number one overall seed by beating Miami (OH) in the CCHA Tournament (in your face again Allbees) and have what looks to be an easy road to the Frozen Four. I don't want to speak too quickly though, because the unheralded teams like Niagara (who Michigan plays in the first round) always have something to prove in these big games. That said, I have Michigan getting to the Frozen Four and winning some close games against some great teams. The other number one seeds went to North Dakota, Miami (OH), and UNH and it's clear that UNH got the short straw. They should have no problem beating Notre Dame in the first round but the second round will be very tough. To try and beat the winner of Colorado College and defending-champion Michigan State is pretty ridiculous, especially if Colorado College wins because the regional is in Colorado Springs, making it pretty much a home game for CC. Anyway, my bracket is below (click it to see a larger version) and I am very hopeful that the champion turns out to be the correct choice.

In the "other" March Madness, the NCAA basketball tourney is in full swing and my bracket is still faring admirably. I went 20-12 in the first round and 10-6 in the second round. I know those records don't jump out at you, but I'm confident about my Final Four teams, all of which are still intact. Obviously, Western Kentucky was a big surprise and Davidson certainly wasn't expected to be in this position but for me, the biggest surprise was Pittsburgh's loss to Michigan State. After the way they played in the Big East tournament, I expected Pitt to get to the Elite Eight and challenge Texas to get to the Final Four. They had played such spirited basketball until that game but something must have happened because they played some lazy basketball and lost to a Michigan State team that they could have beaten. Anyway, here are my picks for the rest of the tournament:

East - I've picked all four Sweet Sixteen teams in this portion of the bracket correctly and I think North Carolina will continue it's dominating run, though it will be much closer against Washington State. The Louisville-Tennessee game should be incredible, but I see the Volunteers coming out on top there. A UNC-Tennessee Elite Eight game should be another thriller, but North Carolina is just too good to be stopped.
South - I originally picked Pittsburgh to beat Memphis, but instead Memphis will go down against Michigan State. They just aren't that good and live and die by the three-point shot. I think Texas will advance to play MSU in a very tight game with Stanford (though I wouldn't mind being wrong because Stanford's awesome). Then in the Elite Eight, I have Texas taking care of the Spartans to get to the Final Four.
Midwest - I was half-right in this section, picking Kansas and Wisconsin correctly though I expected Clemson to play better. That's the past though, and for the future, I see Kansas beating Villanova easily and Wisconsin sweeping away Davidson's dreams. In a surprise pick that I feel oddly good about, I have Wisconsin beating Kansas and going to San Antonio as a member of the Final Four.
West - This was my bad part of the bracket...as UCLA was the only team I picked correctly to get to the Sweet Sixteen. Fortunately, they are the only competent team left and have plenty of Final Four experience to get back there. I have them beating Western Kentucky and in a complete gut feeling with no reasoning involved, I have West Virginia beating Xavier. Then, UCLA will easily take down West Virginia (or Xavier, I have no idea) and reach the Final Four for the third straight year.

Final Four - UCLA will beat Texas and North Carolina will beat Wisconsin. UCLA will finally get the championship it so deserves and beat UNC in the final.

I like my picks but I can certainly accept that they could very easily go wrong, as that is always the story of March Madness (hence the name). Well, that's what's happening in sports for now but until next time, enjoy the Spring weather that should be coming around the corner...I hope.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

New Orleans Day Four: English Turn

The final day of our New Orleans adventure came to an end today; we'll be on a plane back to snowy New Hampshire tomorrow morning. We did manage to save the best course for last, as English Turn Country Club was easily the prettiest course we played all week. Another fantastic day of sunny skies and cool winds kept us at a comfortable temperature for all eighteen holes. I played alright and turned in a score of 92 (45-47). Dad played his best round of the week and shot a 95 (49-46). My putting improved from yesterday's debacle...but only technically because I still had 41 putts, an equally atrocious number. I tried different grips and different routines but I simply couldn't make the five to eight footers; they just wouldn't fall. Other than my continually frustrating short game, the round was fantastic and was a great way to end our golf outing.

The picture on the right is of Dad chipping for eagle on the par five 15th hole. That hole was definitely our favorite out of all of the courses. It included a long water hazard down the entire right side of the hole, leading up to a true island green surrounded entirely by water. I dunked my second shot into that water, losing my eighth and final ball of the week, and ended up with a bogey. Dad pulled off the risky second shot and managed to hit the island green in two. The resulting chip and two putt gave him a nice par on a fantastic hole. It was so much fun playing golf in New Orleans and I highly recommend coming down to vacation in the region. It has been such a great way to spend my spring break.

Before the round, we explored the National World War Two Museum only a few blocks from our hotel. We spent almost two hours walking around the exhibits and looking at the many different artifacts and great pictures. If not for our tee-time at English Turn though, we might have spent all day there. Everything was put together so well and it was fascinating to explore and learn about all the aspects of the war. The coolest thing I learned: the United States fought with only 635,000 soldiers while Germany and Japan had almost 9 million combined...and we still owned their asses. Anyway...the place was awesome and I'm glad we went to look around rather than taking an easy morning and sleeping in; it was well-worth the 8am wake-up call.

For our last night in the Big Easy, we ate at the House of Blues. They served some great food but the atmosphere was even better. Large carvings of famous musicians who have played there served as ceiling tiles and included such artists as: Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, and the Blues Brothers. Overall, it was a pretty cool place to spend our last night even though we decided not to stay for the music. I didn't feel compelled to see a few bands I hadn't heard of so we decided to wander down Bourbon Street again as an alternative. It was even more crowded than Wednesday night, though I did manage to get a few good pictures of interesting places around the area. The picture above was of my favorite name for a bar, Boondock Saint. It seemed like the typical Irish bar but the title was picture-worthy nonetheless.

Well, the vacation has come to a close and I'll be back in class in few days, but it was so much fun to experience the southern culture of New Orleans with my Dad. I love playing golf and the three courses we played were interesting and challenging in their own ways. I hope you enjoyed the posts and pictures throughout the week! You'll be able to view all the photos I took during the vacation on my Facebook page or you can contact me at ckittle@gmail.com if you'd like me to send you any of them. Until my next post, so long from the Big Easy and thanks for reading!

New Orleans Day Three: Stonebridge

The second round of golf is in the books down here in New Orleans after my Dad and I played a course called Stonebridge on Friday. This time, I played much more consistently and my ball striking was quite good, while Dad played solid bogey-golf most of the round with one large exception (a yucky 12 on the Par 4 fourth hole). I finished with a 90 (43-47) and Dad scored a 100 (52-48). After Thursday's round at Carter Plantation, I would normally be happy with an eight stroke improvement but alas, I could not be pleased with my score. The main reason for my stubbornness: I had 43 putts. Yes, you read that correctly, I putted the ball 43 times, capped off by a lipped-out miss, for birdie and to break 90, on the final hole. I had ten three putts. TEN. I was merely hopeless every time I lined one up. I felt like a blind man slapping at the ball in the dark, without the slightest clue of how hard to hit it or even where to aim. I managed a one-putt only once (though it was for a nice birdie). I also buried six balls in watery graves, though two were "accidental" heaves after frustrating circumstances. It certainly wasn't hard to find a spot to lose a ball, as Stonebridge was lined with red stakes; water was in play on 17 of the 18 holes. Overall, it was a tough course but I had a lot of fun and everyone who worked there was very nice and helpful.
I will need to keep my confidence high and hope that my short game improves for tomorrow's round because Dad and I will play our toughest course yet: English Turn Country Club. The course used to be the site for the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, a PGA Tour event. Despite my struggles on the putting surface today, I was encouraged by my strong ball-striking and look forward to tomorrow's round.

After another golf expedition, Dad and I dropped off our things at the hotel and headed right back out on the road. We drove down to see some of the devastation still left behind, only two years removed from the massive hurricanes that hit the area. So many houses in the ninth ward and lower ninth ward were still broken down and destroyed, completely empty inside. When we parked and walked up to where one of the levee's broke, we walked by an old man who nodded at us as we passed and said, "Enjoy." You could tell that he said it with a hint of resentment and bitterness but how can you blame him? There are still people that we saw living in FEMA trailers around houses that haven't been rebuilt. Most of the houses we passed by had been so damaged that they will undoubtedly be torn down in the future. It was just mind-blowing to think that many of the houses we passed were physically underwater during all of the chaos. I felt like quite the tourist while taking plenty of pictures and gaping at the destruction, but as our playing partners on the golf course today told us, it's just good that we're here, caring and helping out the economy any way we can.
The picture on the left is of a high school that has clearly not been used since the hurricanes hit. Rusted piles of lockers lay outside the school in the picture on the right. It was incredibly rewarding to take the drive down to the height of the hurricane damages and see how many lives were changed by the two storms, Katrina and Rita. It certainly gave me some perspective and gives me yet another reason to count the many things I take for granted in my life everyday.

On the way back, we stopped by one of the many cemetery's in New Orleans because they are unlike any other I've seen. We noticed that most of the graves are crypts rather than deep graves dug into the ground. It could be because the soft soil and common flooding create problems for deep graves and cause this anomaly but who knows? Either way, it was a pretty cool, although slightly creepy, place to walk and look around.We had dinner tonight at a place called the Bon Ton Cafe, which had a bit of a different menu than the two previous nights. I tried fried catfish, which was delicious, and also tried bread pudding for dessert. The pudding was covered in a whiskey/molasses-type sauce and was a little too strong on the alcohol side for either of us but was an interesting thing to try anyway.

Well, it's getting pretty late and we're getting up early tomorrow to look around the National World War II Museum before playing 18 at English Turn. We also plan on having dinner at the House of Blues tomorrow night so stay tuned for that update. Until tomorrow, so long from the Big Easy!

New Orleans Day Two: Carter Plantation

On Thursday, my Dad and I played the Carter Plantation golf course, designed by David Toms, and boy did we make a mess of it. We were both quite inconsistent and only managed six pars between the two of us. The course made for a good starting point of our three-day golf adventure though, because it wasn't overly difficult and allowed us to get rid of some of the rust that had built up all winter. I ended up scoring a 98 (50-48) while Dad carded a 103 (50-53). We saw some snapping turtles in most of the watery areas but the majority of the course was pretty dry. This picture above on the left was a great hole; nothing spectacular about the score I made but the view was fantastic and Dad took an amazing action shot here. After the round, I was able to talk to the pro and his wife about how Hurricanes Katrina and Rita affected golf courses in the area. It was great meeting them and they gave me some staggering statistics that I'll use for the article I have to write for class once I return. Overall, Carter Plantation was an excellent course with some great people working to help us and I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to play golf around New Orleans.

So, after adding a coat of lotion to our fresh sunburns, Dad and I took off to explore our surroundings. We walked down to Riverwalk, a famous shopping area alongside the Mississippi River, and strolled through and around the mall. On the way back we passed by Harrah's Casino, the largest casino in the southern region. The age to even go inside and look however, is 21, so that idea was shot down right away. We also wandered down Canal Boulevard, which led us past various shops and restaurants and eventually, to a nice place where we stopped for dinner. The food was tremendous, as usual, and we tried Boudin (Boo-dan) Balls, which is a sausage and rice concoction rolled into a ball and deep-fried. They were delicious. We also had hush puppies (little deep-fried cornbread balls) and gumbo and jambalaya. Now I can understand why southern states have such high obesity levels...the food is irresistible but high in just about every bad nutritional category. I'm just glad I don't live down here...the temptation for such delicious cuisine would surely destroy any self-discipline I have now.

Well, that's about all that happened during our second day in Louisiana but it was sunny and warm and best of all, full of golf. Until next time, so long from the Big Easy!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

New Orleans Day One: Bourbon Street

It took me no more than a few minutes to find out that there are literally only five different types of places you can go on Bourbon Street:

1. Bars (with advertisements such as: "HUGE-ASS BEERS! TO GO!")
2. Titty Bars (known as "Gentlemen's Clubs" for the classier crowd)
3. Jazz Bars (no Kenny-G-style-jazz here, these are the real deal)
4. Souvenir and Liquor Stores
5. Restaurants

I hope you can already tell that Bourbon Street is an awesome place, but if you can't, I'll let you in on a little secret. (It's because the two main influences are nudity and alcohol). Unfortunately though, neither of those two baskets of fun are on the menu for a 20-year-old like myself, so instead, I casually walked along the road with my Dad and observed the wonderful sights of the historic street. It was still a lot of fun; we walked by the House of Blues, Preservation Hall, and witnessed acts of public drunkenness followed by public urination.

Overall, I'd say it was a fun first day in the city and I'm looking forward to a good week of golf, excitement, and absolutely delicious dining. The food we had tonight at a local restaurant was fantastic. I love all spicy foods, so I had the "Taste of New Orleans," which included small portions of jambalaya, chicken and sausage gumbo, and red beans with rice. All three were scrumptious and spicy. It was definitely a treat to enjoy such fresh, Cajun-style food right from New Orleans and I look forward to enjoying it all week long.

Tomorrow, my Dad and I will get up early to play the Carter Plantation golf course, designed by PGA Tour professional David Toms. I'll be sure to have another post tomorrow night about the round and the night's activities and I'll do my best to include some pictures too. Until then, so long from the Big Easy!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

St. Patrick's Day Weekend!

Top of the mornin' everybody! I know it's not quite St. Patty's Day yet, but in the spirit of the upcoming holiday, I felt a new post was in order. Here's a nice and green weekend update for you before it's time to break out the Guinness...
  • Eliot Spitzer, who recently resigned as governor of New York, was found to be involved in a prostitution ring. He's known as "Mr. Clean" and makes fighting crime his #1 priority...maybe he felt like he wasn't doing a good enough job of it and deserved a good spanking. Also, he was the one who signed off on the wiretaps that led to this discovery! I mean jeez...I'm starting to think I might pick President Bush or Jessica Simpson for my scholar bowl team over this guy. This whole situation made created a field day for Jon Stewart, and if you missed any of it...watch it here.
  • Michigan's hockey team (ranked #1 in the country) beat Nebraska-Omaha 10-1 and 2-1 in the CCHA Quarterfinals this weekend to move on to the semifinals, held next Friday where they will play either Ferris State or Notre Dame. I really like how this team plays...I'd love to see them get back to the Frozen Four and have a chance for another national title. Reminds me of the days with Marty Turco, John Madden, Brendan Morrison, and, of course, Mike Legg.
  • Michigan's football team held it's first spring practices today and they weren't pretty. After losing so many keys guys from last year's squad, it is surely going to be a rebuilding year with a new coach and a new system in place. I'm optimistic though, and I only hope that if nothing else, they end their losing streak to the Buckeyes when November rolls around.
  • The Red Wings lost this afternoon for the first time in the past six games. The team looks to be back on track for the Stanley Cup and I love their chances. I'm still interested to see how Coach Babcock will handle the decision regarding who will start in goal come playoff time, as Hasek looked to be the favorite but with his injury problems and some stellar play from Ozzie, it could go either way. My money's on Hasek though in the end.
  • As I'm writing, I realize I have less than 23 hours left as a teenager. Crazy huh? St. Patrick's Day is Monday and that will be when I celebrate my 20th birthday. It just seems weird to think that I'll be 20 years old. Life moves pretty fast, if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
  • In golf news, Tiger is poised to pounce on another PGA Tour event, the Bay Hill Invitational, as he sits tied for the lead after Saturday's round. He'll play in the final group Sunday afternoon and I can't see anyone else holding the trophy when it's all said and done.
  • You will finally be able to fill out your brackets tomorrow night with the 65 teams that will vie for the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship. The Madness doesn't start until all hell breaks loose on Thursday though, so you have some time to think about your picks. I'd like to see Stanford take home the title, but I don't really see that happening.
  • I watched Glory Road on TV the other night and it was great. I felt like it was basically Remember the Titans, except it featured college basketball instead of high school football. Definitely a feel-good movie though. Final verdict: 4 out of 5 stars.
That's all for tonight ladies and gentlemen, hope you enjoyed the update. Since Monday's are usually a downer, go out there and celebrate arguably the best holiday of the year a day early! Have a happy St. Patrick's Day everybody, don't forget to wear green!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Weekend Update

Hello all! A bit of a rainy weekend here at school so while I'm stuck inside I might as a well post an update of what's happening in the world. Well, the world according to me anyway...

  • In Tuesday's big primaries, Hillary "I'm a huge bitch" Clinton won Texas, Ohio, and Rhode Island while Barack "I'm Awesome" Obama won Vermont. You'd think this would be a momentum swinger for Clinton, since Obama had won 11 straight primaries up to this point, but she gained only four delegates in the process. A recent statistic from the AP also shows that Hillary would have to win 62% of the remaining delegates to overtake Obama, which is close to impossible with the way that the Democrats award delegates. Also, since Super Tuesday (Feb. 5th), Obama's net gain of super delegates is +53 while Clinton's is -1. Clinton also recently said that both her and McCain, the recently chosen Republican nominee for president, would be better leaders than Obama, which only tells me she has completely lost her mind.
  • Oh, and if you got bogged down in all that political mumbo-jumbo, I'll summarize for you. Hillary Clinton is completely insane. Barack Obama is charismatic and the obvious choice for our next president. John McCain is nothing but an old Republican.
  • Turning to sports now, the Red Wings have started to win again, having beaten the Sabres and Blues in their first two games of March. I think they will start to get back to their league-best form when Lidstrom, Cleary, and Chelios all return. Also, Coach Babcock has decided to play Hasek in most of the team's final 14 games, which only tells me he will be the goalie come playoff time. That's good, but I worry about his durability as he is still a 43-year-old, injury prone guy.
  • The Pistons lost a recent contest with the "best" team in the East, the Celtics, which tells me nothing except that the Celtics play well in the regular season and will finish with the league's best record. Whoopty doo. Go ahead and pat yourselves on the back while the Pistons actually work towards the playoffs.
  • The Tigers are looking strong in spring training and Miguel Cabrera has a very good shot at challenging A-Rod for the MVP this year. He's more fit than he's been in the past couple years and playing for a contender will fuel his intensity. This team is fantastic. World Series or bust.
  • As for the Lions...well, they still suck. Until GM Matt Millen is fired, that fact will never change.
  • I watched No Country for Old Men last night so here's a quick review: It was great and its Best Picture Oscar was well deserved. Javier Bardem was amazing as the psychotic killer and though the ending was confusing to me, I can see how it would make sense as a book-ending, which is what the story was before the Cohen brothers turned it into a movie. Final verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
  • I'm headed to New Orleans with my Dad in eleven days to play some golf over spring break, which will be incredibly awesome! I'm so excited...and I'll be sure to post some entries about the courses we play and take plenty of pictures, so stay tuned.
  • I witnessed a drunk snowball fight on my way back from the Gables last night, which was not only hilarious but ended with one of the kids hitting another in the eye with what turned out to be more of an ice ball rather than a snow ball. Ouch for him, but great entertainment for me.
  • As for some music recommendations, I think you should all listen to Eddie Vedder's Into the Wild soundtrack, especially the tracks "Hard Sun" and grammy-nominated "Guaranteed." As for other music, pick up some new or old John Mayer. You won't regret it and as the motto for Sam Adams would tell you, it's always a good decision.
That's all I've got for now but everyone have a nice weekend and I'll be back with another post next week as spring break begins!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Movies Movies Movies!

After another bad week for the Red Wings and a ho-hum dominant week for the Pistons, there's not much in sports to talk about. I don't care about NFL free agency because the Lions will only get higher expectations that will deteriorate by mid-season and the NHL trade deadline didn't do much for the Wings so there's no use touching on that either (I will say though that the Penguins will be so much fun to watch in the playoffs with Crosby, Malkin, and Hossa). With that said, I do have four movie reviews for all you readers out there, and they were all good ones.

The Prestige - So good I watched it twice in a 18-hour span. I can't get over how well directed the movie is and how enjoyable it was to watch. The plot begins as a moderately interesting story but turns into a masterpiece by the final scenes. Hugh Jackman, despite Dr. Cox's objections, really gave life to his character and Christian Bale did the exact same for his. There aren't too many movies that I'll watch twice in a day but this one passed the test with flying colors. Final verdict: 5 out of 5 stars.

3:10 to Yuma - Another great film. A western combined with modern special effects made for a impressively realistic and intriguing story. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale were both amazing, though Crowe really stole the show as a manipulative and crafty villain. On another note though, Christian Bale is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors and every character he has played in his movies has been phenomenal. The suspense and action scenes were impeccable in Yuma and I highly recommend this movie. Final verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Memento - I was on fire today with watching incredible movies. I'm running out of different adjectives to use to describe all of these films. Memento was really something, with the reverse-chronological order of the scenes in color combined with the chronological order of the scenes in black and white. The movie was very well put together and the acting was fabulous. The only reason this doesn't get above four stars is because it wasn't exactly easy to follow and there were times where I was confused, though you could make a fair argument that that's my own problem. With that said, I still thought it was great. Final verdict: 4 out of 5 stars.

Eastern Promises - This was the final movie of my day-and-a-half-long marathon and it was pretty good. Viggo Mortensen is an acting legend and his role as an intricate part of the Russian Mafia in London was fantastic. That being said, some of the characters weren't well cast in my opinion and often times, the Russian-English accent was hard to understand and decipher. Also, I didn't particularly enjoy the final fight scene as much as I could have. I mean yeah, the action was awesome, but having the fight in a sauna-slash-bathroom area was a bad decision. When Viggo's towel immediately fell off, it left me in a tough position. I wanted to watch Viggo kick their asses, I really did, but when the weather forecast was showing a wintry mix of man parts, I tuned out. Sorry Viggo, but save it for your private time. Final verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

The month of March is upon us and many things in sports will begin to unfold. In future posts I will have my predictions for the Frozen Four, the Final Four (who wishes it was as cool as the Frozen Four), and the NHL/NBA playoff pictures. At the moment though, I'll quote a wise animal in closing: "TTFN, ta ta for now."