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GW Basketball Crashes Against St. Joseph’s

March 9, 2011

The past few seasons have not exactly been the glory years for the George Washington University men’s basketball program.  After a strong run in the mid 2Ks that featured three consecutive NCAA bids and a brief stay in the top 10, the team had fallen on hard times in recent years.

Coach Karl Hobbs has a reputation as an excellent recruiter, but after allegations came out that the team had several graduates from “diploma mill” high schools, the school became much more discriminating in its admissions process.  As a result, the talent level on the team suffered.

Without superior talent, Hobbs’ poor in-game coaching skills were exposed.  The team recorded back-to-back losing seasons, where they did not even qualify for their conference’s postseason tournament.

Last year seemed to be a step in the right direction, as the team finished with a winning record and played a game in the postseason CBI tournament.  There was some hope that they team would continue its upward ascent this season.

Those hopes were quickly dashed as last season’s leading scorer Lasan Kromah suffered an injury in preseason that would keep him out all season.  Without Kromah, the team looked lost on offense in the early going.  They seemed to have no direction, and it was painful to watch their offensive futility.

It looked like it was going to be another bad season for the Colonials, but surprisingly, the team turned things around.  Early in the season, point guard Tony Taylor looked to be conflicted between trying to distribute the ball and looking for his own shot.  He finally began to assert himself more as a scorer, and as a result the offense began to fall into sync. 

After a horrendous start to the season, the team played strong in the final two months and finished the regular season at 17-13.  Their reward was a home game in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament.  Their opponents would be the St. Joseph’s Hawks led by coach Phil Martelli.

Phil Martelli has a good reputation nationally, which is a result of knowing how to work the media.  He uses his unattractive appearance (I’m not trying to insult him here – well, maybe I am a little bit – but he definitely tries to use his looks to his advantage) and St. Joseph’s small size to portay him and his team as loveable underdogs.

The truth is, Martelli is somewhat of a bully who becomes especially nasty when things don’t go his way.  For examples of this, see how he reacted to Billy Packer in 2004 or John Chaney in 2005.

In 2004, St. Joseph’s became a national sensation as they reached #1 in the country behind point guard Jameer Nelson.  Since that season, the Hawks have gone on a steady downward spiral.  This season, they had a 9-21 regular season record, and there have been rumblings that Martelli’s job was in danger.

This looked like the perfect opportunity for GW to earn it’s first postseason win since the 2007 A-10 championship game. 

Surprisingly, the Charles E. Smith Center had a lively crowd.  I’ve been critical of the GW student population in recent years, but apparently they realized that there was an important, nationally televised (CBS College Sports) game last night, and came out in force.

The crowd didn’t help GW much in the early going.  The Hawks were on a mission to slow the pace of the game down, and it was working well.  St. Joseph’s would work the shot clock down to single digits before getting off a good shot.  The Hawks were also clamping down defensively, preventing the Colonials from getting out on a break. 

In addition, the Hawks were coming up with just about every loose ball, and every bounce seemed to be going their way.  There were several plays in which a scramble for the ball resulted in an easy basket for the Hawks.

The Colonials didn’t seem to be able to do much right in the first half.  There were multiple easy opportunities near the basket that they didn’t convert.  There were also several poor decisions (most notably by center Joseph Katuka) and fundamental breakdowns.

Particularly galling was a sequence at the end of the first half when GW turned the ball over, and after making a defensive stop, failed to secure the rebound, allowing the Hawks to make a three pointer, giving them an 11 point lead at the half.

The crowd’s energy had effectively been killed.  They continued to chant “air ball” at Hawks point guard Carl Jones (he missed the rim on an early three-point attempt), but that chant seems hollow when the visitors are ahead by double digits.  I guess I shouldn’t be too critical of the students, as most of them have never experienced a meaningful game in their time at the school.

Early in the second half, GW seemed determined not to make a comeback.  There were more poor decisions near the hoop, more turnovers, and on multiple times, they fouled a Hawks player with less than five seconds left on the shot clock.

Midway through the second half, with the deficit still in double digits, Tony Taylor came to life.  He had been stymied for most of the game, but he began to assert himself, and the offense began to show signs of life.  More importantly, the defense tightened, and kept the Hawks from extending their lead.

With the crowd re-energized, the Colonials furiously fought their way back and tied the game with less than two minutes remaining.  Sadly, despite some excellent opportunities, they were never able to take the lead.  

On the last possession of regulation, Taylor missed a makeable shot, but Colonials forward Jabari Edwards grabbed the offensive rebound.  Edwards was in perfect position for the putback, but appeared to not realize how much time he had.  His rushed attempt missed, and the game headed to overtime.

While it seemed like GW had all of the momentum heading into the overtime, I was a bit nervous.  Many times, when a team makes a huge comeback, they relax a bit once the score is tied, losing the intensity that fueled the comeback in the first place.

I also was wary of the Hawks getting off to a quick start in overtime.  In most overtime games that I’ve seen, the team that jumps off to an early lead is usually the winner of the game.  That proved correct as the Hawks scored on their first two possessions, and didn’t look back.

Taylor attempted to lead another comeback, but he was clearly worn down, as his shots were coming up well short.  On the other end, St. Joseph’s didn’t seem to be missing anything in overtime, especially from the free throw line where they sealed the game.

This was a very disappointing end to an encouraging season.  While St. Joseph’s played well (shooting over 50% from the field and 87.5% at the free throw line) and had a solid game plan, they were still a 9 win team coming into the game.  If the Colonials had simply played solid, fundamental basketball, they would have won the game.

Still, there are reasons to be encouraged for next season.  With the expected return of Kromah, he and Taylor should make up an excellent backcourt.  The team will also have highly touted center recruit Erik Copes join the team.  It is certainly reasonable to expect the team to be a factor in the Atlantic 10 and to earn a bid to the NIT.

And who knows, maybe the CBI or one of the other lesser postseason tournaments will deem the Colonials worthy of an invite.  They might get another chance at ending an encouraging season on a high note.

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Playoff Predictions – Divisional Round

January 14, 2011

My season of bad predictions continued last week as I went 1-3.

The wild card round was good for the road teams, as they went 3-1.  And the one home team that won was the one that nobody expected to.

I think just about everyone in America got the Saints vs. Seahawks game wrong.  And my pick of the Eagles may have just been a bit of a homer pick.  As for the Jets, well I didn’t expect them to be able to shut down Peyton Manning so effectively.  (I also didn’t realize how bad Colts coach Jim Caldwell was either)

Will the divisional round bring me any better success?

Ravens at Steelers

Here’s where I once again mention my conspiracy theory that the NFL wants the Steelers to win.

The Ben Roethlisberger suspension could have killed this team, but thanks to the way the Steelers schedule was set up, they were able to get past it.  In a way, even the many fines on Rodney Harrison fit into my theory.  The NFL wants to present the Steelers as a model franchise, so they can’t have one of the team’s players as the poster child for illegal hits.  If it was another team, they might have tried to suspend him.

The Steelers look like a very solid team, with their biggest weakness being at offensive line.  This might seem like a major concern, but they were able to win the Super Bowl two years ago with a subpar offensive line, so I guess they don’t really need one on order to thrive.  They seem to have everything else: Dynamic wide receivers, a powerful running back, and a playmaking defense.

The Ravens will be playing their second consecutive road game after their win over the Chiefs last week.  The Ravens are familiar with road games, mostly because they seem unable to win their division, and always have to settle for a wild card berth.

The Ravens looked impressive in beating the Chiefs, although the Chiefs seemed half beaten heading into that game.  Even after the victory, I still have concerns about QB Joe Flacco in big games.  While teams can win by leaning on a strong running game and defense, you’ve got to figure that at some point they’ll need Flacco to make a play in a key game.

I think that is the key difference in a pretty even matchup: Roethlisberger makes a play that Flacco does not.

Prediction: Steelers 24-16

  

Packers at Falcons

Last week, the Packers showed that if teams overload against their passing game, they can indeed run the ball.  This is a lesson that I wish Andy Reid would learn one of these days.

In a way, I thought the running game might have been to the Packers’ detriment a bit.  By running the ball so much, they kept the game close, when it appeared that they were the more talented team.  Consider that as much as the Packers outplayed the Eagles, the game still came down to the final drive.  It should also be noted that in the fourth quarter, when they needed the running game to eat up yardage and clock, it did not get the job done.

The Falcons have managed to go under the radar, despite being the conference’s top seed.  It feels like everyone expects them to lose, even though they’ve been good all year, and have been especially tough at home.  Unlike the Eagles, the Falcons have an imposing pass rush, and when Packers QB Aaron Rodgers needs to make a big throw, he may not have the necessary time.

These are two good teams – perhaps the best two in the conference.  The Packers may have more playmakers, but the Falcons seem a bit better rounded.  The Falcons also have several other factors in their favor.  They have been able to rest their players, while the Packers have had three do-or-die games in a row.  Eventually, that will wear even the best of teams down.  Combined with homefield advantage, I think that gives the Falcons the edge.

Prediction: Falcons 27-24

Seahawks at Bears

After last week’s upset of the Saints, all of a sudden people are jumping aboard the Seahawks bandwagon, saying they’re a sleeping giant.

I think it was more a case of the Saints underestimating the Seahawks, as well as the Seahawks homefield advantage giving them an edge.  QB Matt Hasselbeck looked rejuvenated, throwing four touchdowns, and the game was sealed when running back Marshawn Lynch had his electrifying run down the field.

This week, the Seahawks will have to travel to Chicago to face a well rested Bears team.  People have underestimated the Bears all season.  Most of this has been due to skepticism about quarterback Jay Cutler.  While he has a strong arm and can make some great plays, at his worst, Cutler is an interception throwing machine.  I think the worst fear of Bears fans is that Cutler decides to go into Brett Favre mode and start throwing the ball all over the place.

If the Seahawks can pick off a couple of passes and convert them into scores, then there is the real threat of an upset.

Assuming that doesn’t happen, the Bears should be in good shape.  Unlike the Saints, the Bears have a strong defense, and I can’t imagine Hasselbeck having a repeat performance.  The Bears should win a low scoring contest.

Prediction: Bears 20-10

Jets at Patriots

I was quite surprised by the Jets last week.  After thinking they wouldn’t handle the playoff pressure, they came through, beating the Colts on a last second field goal.

The pressure only gets higher this week as they face off against the top seeded Patriots, and the trash talk has been in full effect.  The Jets seem to legitimately dislike the Patriots.  Perhaps that dislike is justified since the Patriots crushed them by a score of 45-3 the last time the teams played.

The Jets appeared to have the advantage at just about every position over the Colts (QB being the notable exception), but that does not appear to be the case this week.  The Patriots are very talented and well coached as well.

This doesn’t seem to be a good matchup for the Jets.  The Patriots might have a vulnerable pass defense, but is Jets QB Mark Sanchez capable of taking advantage?  And the Jets’ best player CB Darrelle Revis will mostly be wasted against the Patriots who tend to spread the ball around on offense.  Does it matter who Revis is covering when Tom Brady has so many other options to choose from?

The Jets will surely keep talking, but I don’t think it will matter against a more talented team that has had two weeks to prepare.

Prediction: Patriots 30-17

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NFL Preview: NFC Predictions

September 10, 2010

And now, predicting how things will shape up in the NFC:

NFC West

4. Seattle Seahawks – They’ve pretty much jettisoned the core of the NFC Champions from three years ago. The one key holdover is QB Matt Hasselbeck, and most people have kind of forgotten about him anyway. He used to be one of the better QBs in the league, but now he’s an injury prone mediocre QB.

New coach Pete Carroll was a failure in his first stint as a head coach, but found success at the college level with USC. Those who think that college coaches rarely succeed at the pros should keep in mind that USC was essentially a professional program.

I expect Carroll to eventually succeed, but this team seems to be in the beginning of a rebuilding phase. Last place seems likely.

3. San Francisco 49ers – The winners of this year’s “Team that everyone is really high on even though they haven’t actually accomplished anything” award. The team that wins this “award” always seems to fall well short of expectations.

I like coach Mike Singletary, and there is some talent present. But I think QB Alex Smith holds them back. A former #1 overall pick, he really hasn’t shown enough to make anyone think that he can lead this team to the heights many predict. This is now his fourth year in the league, and most guys who are going to be successes would have at least shown some sign by now.

Maybe the surrounding talent like RB Frank Gore and WR Michael Crabtree can allow them to meet the expectations, but I don’t see it happening.

2. Arizona Cardinals – Can anyone explain why the Cardinals didn’t go after Donovan McNabb in the offseason? It’s not like they had a lot of faith in Matt Leinart since they brough in Derek Anderson to compete with him. McNabb would have loved to go to Arizona, and isn’t this team almost a guaranteed playoff team with him?

Regardless, they have Anderson as their QB, and that should be a huge dropoff from Kurt Warner’s play last year. Combined with some key departures like WR Anquan Boldin and S Antrel Rolle, I see the Cards falling short of the playoffs this year.

1. St. Louis Rams – The Rams have been awful the past couple of seasons, and now have a new QB in #1 draft pick Sam Bradford. I’m a fan of coach Steve Spagnuolo, and I think he’ll have the Rams defense playing at an extremely high level.

Rookie QBs used to struggle upon entering the league, but in the past few seasons, we’ve seen teams win playoff games with rookie signal callers. Considering they’ll likely lean on RB Steven Jackson, and only ask Bradford not to lose games for them, I think the Rams will be another success story.

NFC South

4. Tampa Bay Bucs – This looks to be a rebuilding year for the Bucs. After having a very old team two years ago, and seeing the team collapse, they pretty much blew everything up and brought in a lot of younger players.

QB Josh Freeman might develop into a good player. He looked sharp at times last season, but I can’t see him taking this team very far this year. They’re counting on RB Cadillac Williams to carry the running game, but the only thing you should count on Cadillac for is getting hurt.

With a questionable offense, this team would need a good defense to succeed. But the Bucs defense looks to be even more of a question mark. It will be difficult for this team to avoid finishing last.

3. Carolina Panthers – People forget that this was the NFC’s #2 seed two years ago before QB Jake Delhomme imploded. The new QB is Matt Moore, and it’s hard to know exactly what to expect from him. He has gone 6-2 as a starter thus far in his career, so he may be good.

As long as Moore isn’t a disaster, the running back tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart should at least keep the Panthers in games.

The defense lost their best-known player in DE Julius Peppers, but it may not be that big of a loss since Peppers has been a bit overrated for years.

I think the Panthers stay in the race, but just aren’t quite as good as two other teams in their division.

2. New Orleans Saints – (This was written before the opening game)

The core of the champs returns, so why aren’t they my pick to win the division? Well, as good as QB Drew Brees and the offense looked last year, they may have overacheived a bit. And the Saints defense played well enough, but I always got the feeling that they were the type of defense who played well mostly because of the team’s offense.

The Saints were usually playing with a lead, and knew that opponents would be trying to make comebacks. That led to a lot of big plays and interceptions by the defense. I don’t know if they can count on so many big plays this year.

Basically, I feel the Saints caught a lot of breaks last year (and this isn’t detracting from their title since almost every champ catches a lot of breaks) and things may not go as smoothly this season. They make the playoffs, but it will be as a wild card.

1. Atlanta Falcons – I really thought highly of the Falcons chances heading into last season, but injuries pretty much derailed them. If QB Matt Ryan and RB Michael Turner stay healthy, then they should have an excellent offense.

I also think their defense should be improved thanks to the addition of CB Dunta Robinson. As long as the defense can keep opponents off the scoreboard, the offense should be able to do some damage.

Last season marked the first time in franchise history that they had two consecutive winning seasons. This year, they make it three in a row and win the division.

NFC North

4. Chicago Bears – I correctly identified them as last year’s overhyped team that will disappoint. QB Jay Cutler was supposed to be the answer, but instead he was a complete disaster throwing many costly interceptions, and acting like a surly jerk off the field. Cutler has talent, but it isn’t clear if he will be able to properly harness it in Chicago…or anywhere else.

The Bears used to be carried by their defense, but that unit has declined from the top rated group that carried the team to the 2007 Super Bowl. They can hope that the return of LB Brian Urlacher from injury, and the signing of DE Julius Peppers will reverse the trend, but both of them are past their primes, and I don’t know if they’ll be enough. This team looks destined for last place.

3. Detroit Lions – Things are slowly improving for the Lions. QB Matthew Stafford looks like he might be a player, and WR Calvin Johnson already is one of the best in the NFL. The Lions offense definitely seems like it is on the upswing.

As for the defense, they still have some improvements to make, although Rookie DT Ndamukong Suh should help them considerably.

They might not yet be at playoff level, but at least the Lions have hope ahead, and seem to have put their 0-16 days behind them.

2. Minnesota Vikings – As much as Reggie White is beloved, should we hold it against him that without him, Brett Favre probably doesn’t win a Super Bowl? Without that title, Favre probably doesn’t get away with this non-retirement crap, and ESPN wouldn’t have dedicated 20 hours a day to following his status.

Regardless, after Favre blew another playoff game, and faked retiring again, he’s back to lead this year’s team. Only he doesn’t appear to be completely healthy, and with receivers Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin having injury issues of their own, the Vikings passing game may not be that great.

Of course, they could always lean on superstar runnning back Adrian Peterson, but I don’t know if head coach Brad Childress is smart enough to do so.

On the other hand, the Vikings defense looks like it will be the team’s strength. But it won’t be strong enough to win the division this year.

1. Green Bay Packers – They started slowly last year, and blew the two Vikings games, possibly because they were too distracted by the Favre sideshow. That shouldn’t be an issue this year, and the Packers offense could be the best in the NFL. QB Aaron Rodgers seems to have risen to star level, and he has a good supporting cast.

The Packers defense looked good last season until they were absolutely torched in the playoff game against the Cardinals. If the regular season was the reality, and the playoff game was just a fluke against a good offensive team, then the Packers could be Super Bowl bound.

NFC East

4. Washington Redskins – I’ll do a more detailed preview of the Redskins in a separate post. They will show some improvement from last season (and it would be hard not to) but I don’t think there’s enough talent on hand to keep them out of the basement.

3. Philadelphia Eagles – As usual, I will give the team a more detailed preview. Loaded with young talent, they also have quite a few question marks that will keep them out of the playoffs.

2. New York Giants – I predicted a division win for the Giants, but instead, they had a very disappointing season. Their defense collapsed, as the secondary couldn’t seem to stop anyone. The defensive line should be a strength, yet they underperformed last year. I’m thinking that there’s too much talent on this defense for them to play that poorly again.

On the other hand, the Giants offense is a huge question mark. RBs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs seemed to take huge steps backwards last year. And then there’s Eli Manning. In 2008, he looked like he was becoming one of the best QBs in the league. Then Plaxico Burress went to jail. Ever since, he has looked ordinary.

Basically, I think the Giants either have another run in them, or else coach Tom Coughlin gets fired and they probably rebuild a bit. I’m leaning towards a playoff spot, but it wouldn’t shock me if this team disappoints again.

1. Dallas Cowboys – Sadly, the Cowboys have the most talent in the division, and therefore will probably win it. It isn’t clear if the Cowboys were that good last year, or they were fortunate enough to play an Eagles team that they matched up very well against.

Coach Wade Phillips and QB Tony Romo finally won some key games in December and January last season, which should have erased the “Can’t win when it counts” label. Except they underperformed so badly in the playoff loss to Minnesota that the talk came back.

Based on their strong defense alone, the Cowboys will win the division, but I see another playoff disappointment ahead.

Playoff Predictions

Wild Card Round

Falcons over Giants

Saints over Rams

Divisional Round

Falcons over Cowboys

Packers over Saints

NFC Championship

Packers over Falcons

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The World Cup? Meh.

June 22, 2010

We are now underway with the 2010 World Cup!  Soccer’s (or football’s if you want to get all worldly about it) premier showcase!  The event that unites the entire world in a celebration of sport!

I don’t get it.

I mean, sure I want the United States to win the World Cup.  Why wouldn’t I?  I’m an American, and if the U.S. wins, that makes our country – and by extension, me – better than other countries.  But to me, my desire to see them win is about the same as my desire to see the U.S. curling team win the gold in the Olympics.  It would be nice, but win or lose, I’m pretty much going to forget about it immediately afterwards.

Like many of my generation, I grew up playing soccer.  I started off early, getting enrolled in a pee-wee soccer league at the age of five.  I continued to play throughout my childhood, all the way up until high school.  By that time I had become a pretty good defender for my league team.  Actually, I was a somewhat dirty player.  I would slide tackle all over the place, and often take out people’s legs.  Opponents didn’t like that too much, and I actually got punched in the back in a game.

Despite my success, I never went out for the high school team.  I don’t recall why exactly.  I think I didn’t want to deal with all the running.  My coach told me I should have at least tried out.  It remains a regret in my life.

Although I had played soccer as a youth, I never got the urge to follow the sport professionally.  One problem was that soccer games weren’t readily available for me to watch.  I didn’t have cable TV until I was in the 7th grade, and the broadcast networks certainly weren’t showing any games.  Even if I could have seen games, I’m not sure they would have appealed to me anyway.  For me to want to watch a sport, it needs to either be entertaining or I need to have a rooting interest. 

I’m sure some people will argue that soccer is the most entertaining game ever invented, but to me, it’s kind of boring.  You can claim that watching masterful dribbling and expert passing is more exciting than seeing a bunch of goals being scored.  But some people would also argue that the And1 basketball tour is more exciting than watching an actual basketball game.

For those unfamiliar with the And1 tour, here’s a clip:

Since the sport in general doesn’t excite me, I would need to have a rooting interest to watch it regularly.  But what team would I root for?  Maybe if Philadelphia had a Major League Soccer team when I was younger, I would have gotten behind them.  But they did not, so I never felt any urge to follow the sport.  And since I don’t follow the sport on a regular basis, should I really care about the World Cup?

Despite what ESPN would have me believe, I think the answer is no.

Aside from the above mentioned issues, here are some of my biggest quibbles with the sport of soccer:

Tie games

That USA vs. England game was hyped up so much, and then it ended in a tie.  Really?  You’ve got this monumentally huge game and you don’t even get a winner out of it?  What the hell is that all about? 

I know that you get a certain number of points for a win, and a certain number for a tie, and your point total determines who advances.  But why can’t they adopt a system similar to the NHL? 

A few years ago, the NHL (finally) figured out that ties – even in the regular season – sucked.  So they started doing shootouts at the end of overtime.  They awarded two points to the winning team, and one point to the losing team.  It leads to some exciting finishes. 

I know that some soccer games do indeed end with a shootout.  So why not adopt a similar strategy for every game?

Landon Donovan

Landon Donovan annoys the crap out of me.  He has been touted for years as being the best American player.  And yet, with him leading the way, American teams always seem to disappoint in international competitions.

A few years ago, he was unhappy and struggling playing in a European league, so he came to MLS and became the league’s showcase star.  This is probably the equivalent of Joakim Noah going to a French basketball league and becoming their biggest star.  The competition levels just aren’t the same.

Plus, when David Beckham came to MLS and joined his team, he got all whiny about it, complaining that Beckham got all the money and attention, but wasn’t as good a player.  Continuing with the above scenario, it would be as if Shaquille O’Neal went to Noah’s French team and Noah got jealous of all the attention Shaq received.

Sorry, Landon, but Beckham is an international star.  Maybe if you were more of an appeal, MLS wouldn’t have had to bring him in to raise the league’s profile.

Maybe I just don’t like him because of his name.  Parents, please don’t give your children names like Landon.  It doesn’t do them any favors.

People Who Cheer for Other Countries

If you’re originally from a different country, or even one generation removed, I can understand cheering for your home nation.  But if your family has been in America for a couple of generations, then your #1 team should be the good old USA.

I get that people of Irish or Italian descent like to cheer for those countries, even if they have never visited them and couldn’t even locate them on a map.  So if you want to keep them as a secondary focus, I suppose I’m cool with that.

But to cheer for them over your home country is wrong.  If America is playing them, you should be rocking the red, white, and blue.  After all, if the two countries went to war, which side would you be on? 

And don’t pull this “I cheer for them because America isn’t good at soccer” crap either.  That’s like the kids who grow up in Washington but say the Cowboys are their favorite football team because “the Redskins aren’t any good.”   Sorry, but geography should be the primary decider of what team you cheer for.  It may seem unfair, but that’s how it goes.

Anyway, I guess the U.S. team has to beat Algeria in order to advance into the next round of the World Cup.  I suppose I’ll be pulling for them, and I might even smile a bit if they do win.  But will I really care?  Nope.