Tokyo Auto Show is weird and cool

Tokyo is a pretty surreal place, decidedly different from every other place in the world. So, it’s only fitting that the annual Tokyo Auto Show is usually a concept-heavy showcase of automotive technology, from the innovative to the extreme. This year’s show, kicking off next week, will be no different.

Take the Honda Puyo, for example. The bubble-shaped, fuel-cell car uses a “gel body” that feels soft to touch and, according to Honda, is designed to evoke a “feeling of happiness” from its occupants and passerby. Seriously, someone needs to take the time and test the drinking water in Japan for hallucinogens. Instead of working of this, perhaps the Honda engineers should have spent more time getting the rumored successor to the NSX ready for the show. Originally slated to make its debut in Tokyo, it’s looking more likely that the NSX successor will be conspicuously missing. To make matters worse, the V-10 powered Lexus supercar, also rumored to be debuting at this year’s show, won’t be present either. Instead, showgoers will gawk at the LF-A concept, which we’ve seen plenty of already.

At least, Nissan held up its end of the bargain. The third head, of the three-headed Japanese automotive monster, will descend upon Tokyo with the V-6 twin-turbo, four-wheel drive GT-R coupe – the company’s hereditary replacement to the legendary Skyline. Also, on a lesser scale, Subaru will debut the next-generation WRX STI, which will arrive in 5-door hatchback form incidentally, and rival Mitsubishi will trot out its much-anticipated Evo X (ten).

Barring any last minute surprises, the pre-show disappearing act of the Honda/Acura and Lexus supercars is a huge disappointment. But, just like every year around this time, the Tokyo Auto Show definitely bears watching – especially given the fact that it’s the most eccentric and experimental auto show in the world, just like the city that hosts it.

Kobe Bryant locker-gate 2007

It’s great to write for an independent blog, where we’re afforded perspective and the ability to watch stories happen and only dig into the ones that are actual news. Case in point: Kobe locker-gate 2007. Over the past several days, just about every sports writer spent a considerable amount of their professional time reporting on and writing about the sometimes inconsequential trials and tribulations of Kobe Bryant.

Did he clean out or clean up his locker? Did Mark Cuban stop dancing for a minute and call Mitch Kup-cake with a legitimate trade offer for Kobe's services? Are Phil Jackson and Jeanie Buss conspiring to drive a wedge between Jerry Buss and Bryant? Are any of the current Chicago Bulls’ players house-shopping in the So-cal area? The questions, over the past week, ranged in degree from mildly ridiculous to utterly inane.

We can’t fault the sports writers, of course. This is the nature of the overly sensational media, as it is today. Can’t you just envision a conversation like the following?
Editor at a daily newspaper: Did you hear Kobe cleaned out his locker and is sitting out of practices? He could be traded any minute and we’re not writing about this?

Sports writer at a daily newspaper: We’re not because it’s about as newsworthy as my dog switching to a new brand of pet food. Kobe cleaned up his locker, and a lot of veterans don’t practice in the pre-season. You want me to write a story every time a player removes his dirty shorts from the team’s locker room?

Editor: Kobe said that any trades are up to the front-office. Why is he being aloof? Is there some hidden meaning behind all this? What do we pay you for? Our readers want answers, now! Seriously, you don’t need to do much, just write the words Kobe, Phil, Buss and Lakers and connect them together with whatever other random words…and watch the readers roll in.

Sports writer: Are you serious? Ok, whatever. I’ll make some calls. Can’t believe I actually put up with this nonsense, it’s driving me…

Editor: Did you say something?

Sports writer: No, nothing.
And so it goes, in a pre-season that hasn’t produced a whole lot of significant news, the need to fill column space drives editors to demand and writers to write the most inconsequential stories, like those seen and read during Kobe locker-gate 2007. How about getting back to the issue of the basketball at hand?

In case you didn't know, the Lakers played in an exhibition game last night against the very young Seattle Sonics. Kobe scored 20 points in 18 minutes and looked fine, though naturally a bit distracted. Andrew Bynum, who has been rock-solid this preseason, scored 19 points and pulled down 10 boards, showing off his soft hands around the basket. Bynum’s back-to-the-basket game still needs a ton of work, but at least he seems to be more confident. Jordan Farmar also looked good, but, given his size, his place is best as a sparkplug off the bench. Speaking of sparkplugs, Ronnie Turiaf needs to hit the boards, or he won’t hang on to the starting power forward gig for too much longer. And, the Lakers defense still doesn't look too good, which could render any offensive improvement moot anyway.

Wow, we’re actually talking basketball. What a novel concept!


College hoops ready to unleash the madness

Midnight madness, the nocturnal celebration of all things college basketball, took place on campuses from USC to UMD this past weekend, marking the unofficial start of the NCAA season. Lefty Driesell, the legendary Maryland Terrapins basketball coach and founder of the madness that goes down at midnight (or sometimes a bit earlier in the evening), must have been proud – even if, at 75, he isn’t much interested in being party to the madness. So, with the first weekend of October behind us and the rowdy college hoops heads ready to root, root, root for their alma-matter, we thought we’d take a fresh look at the teams and players that will matter in the 2007-2008 NCAA hoops season.

Going into the season, any national championship conversation will need to include the word “Tarheels”, of the North Carolina variety. Despite losing studs Brendan Wright and Reyshawn Terry to the NBA ranks, the ‘Heels return the human blur Ty Lawson at point guard and forward Tyler Hansbrough, who may not become a great NBA prospect, but has a game perfectly suited for the college ranks. If Wayne Ellington at shooting guard and Bobby Fraser off the bench can consistently knock down the 3-ball, North Carolina could easily find themselves snatching the national championship throne away from the Florida Gators.

Along with the Tarheels, here are our picks for the top 5 early favorites to win the 2007-2008 national championship:
1. North Carolina Tarheels – Great point guard play, tough inside play and great coaching leads to a championship recipe.
2. Memphis Tigers – Plays defense and has one of the top, if not the best point guard in the country in Derrick Rose (he could be a top 3 pick in next year’s NBA draft).
3. UCLA Bruins – Despite the loss of Arron Afflalo, the backcourt of Darren Collison and Josh Shipp is top notch. And Bruin fans will find much to like about 6’ 10” freshman forward Kevin Love.
4. USC Trojans – A lot of so-called “pundits” are sleeping on the Trojans, but super freshman OJ Mayo could be their wake-up call. Trojans lose a lot with the departure of Young, Pruitt and Stewart, but Taj Gibson and freshman Davon Jefferson will hold down the front-court.
5. Louisville Cardinals – Coached by Rick Pitino, you know the Cardinals will run on offense and press on defense, and they have the horses and balanced offensive scoring this year to pull off the traditional Pitino gameplan quite effectively.
So, we’ve got our early title favorites, but what about the sleepers? These 5 teams could give the Tarheels and Bruins of the world a lot of headaches.
1. Kentucky Wildcats – It’s tough to categorize the legendary Wildcats as a sleeper, but given their recent lack of success some may have forgotten the team’s storied history. Talented coach Billy Gillespie will change all that. Sure guard play is important, and Kentucky has plenty of that, but in NCAA hoops a good coach can make all the difference.
2. Villanova Wildcats – Villanova had a couple of really great freshman recruits in the two Coreys – no, not the 80s teen idol kind, but Fisher and Stokes instead. Guard Scottie Reynolds will provide the veteran leadership on this perimeter oriented team.
3. Rhode Island Rams – The drive and dish game that the Rams play produces a lot of 3 pointers and players like Will Daniels and Jimmy Baron know what to do with an open look from downtown. If they can get through the A-10, the Rams will give some high-ranked teams fits in the NCAA tournament.
4. Mississippi State Bulldogs – Perhaps you’re picking up on the theme; we like teams with solid point guard play and good coaching. The bulldogs have both in powerful point man Jamont Gordon and coach Rick Stansbury.
5. Southern Illinois Salukis – When does Southern Illinois go from sleeper to favorite? Their 78-26 record over the last 3 seasons make a convincing argument for their considerable talent. The bottom line, however, is that Randall Falker will be tough inside and point guard Bryan Mullins will be one of the best floor generals in Division I, yet some teams will take the Salukis lightly.
Finally, we get to the underachievers. And as an alum of UMCP and fan of the Terrapins, it gives us immense pleasure to be able to objectively place the Dukies and head Devil himself Mike Krzyzewski at the top of the underachievers list.
1. Duke Bluedevils – Will the Blue Devils make the NCAA tournament? Possibly. Will the team led by Greg Paulus and DeMarcus Nelson live up to the “Dukie” tradition of success? Most definitely not. In a down year for the ACC, we foresee a relatively down year for the Blue Devils as well.
2. Washington State Cougars – Led by 14ppg scorer Derrick Low, the Cougars won 26 games last year. Unfortunately, this year they won’t sneak up on the other teams in the Pac-10. Expect a let-down from Tony Bennett’s crew (no, not that Tony Bennett).
3. Georgetown Hoyas – We love Coach John Thompson III, so if he can weave some of his coaching magic we could be eating our words. But, the loss of Jeff Green is too much to overcome for this team, as we don’t see Roy Hibbert stepping up to fill the go-to-guy void. The Hoyas will be hard-pressed to match last year’s Final Four run.
4. Kansas Jayhawks – Given their well documented post-season failures, can we permanently place Bill Self’s Jayhawks on the underachievers list please? Their best player Brandon Rush is coming into the season injured, and the front-court of Darrell Arthur and Sasha Kaun isn’t as solid as some have predicted. Many expect this to be a Final Four team, but we foresee a second round exit.
5. Florida Gators - This is an easy one. They may have one of the best recruting classes coming in, but even the brilliant coaching of Billy Donovan won't make up for the loss of 4/5 of the National Championship team's starting lineup to the glitter and glory of the NBA.
So, that’s our capsule outlook into the upcoming 2007-2008 NCAA basketball season. The road to the Final Four (with all appropriate copyright due to CBS) starts for most teams in a couple of weeks. Make sure you’re stocked up on your team gear and have a good high-def TV lined up to follow all the twists and turns of the madness that is college basketball.