Thursday, 31 March 2016

NCAA 2016 Final Four Breakdown

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The 2016 NCAA College Basketball Tournament reaches its dizzy crescendo this weekend in Houston where the final four and best remaining College teams face off to crown the Champion in College Hoops.

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Following a mad opening weekend where more upsets occurred than normal, and then a fairly flat second weekend of Sweet 16 and Elite 8 action owing to the shocks in the first weekend, we are left with four teams. One Number One seed remains in North Carolina, two number twos in Oklahoma and Villanova and one underdog in No. 10 Syracuse.

North Carolina (1) v Syracuse (10)
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Syracuse have profited from having winnable games throughout the tournament and profiting from teams being eliminated. They beat Dayton by 19 in the first round, they then avoided Michigan State by defeating their victors Middle Tennessee by 25. Then they got two tough games in Gonzaga (will they ever reach their potential) by 3 before defeating Virginia by a convincing margin of 6. Virginia could not contend with the 2-3 zone of Cuse, and while they may be able to slow down North Carolina's offensive production, Virginia scored the most points of anyone against Syracuse in the tournament - 62.

North Carolina meanwhile have been the most under-the-radar No.1 seed in recent memory, every game has been won by double digits, the closest being 14 over Notre Dame in the elite eight and 15 over Indiana two days before.  The Tar Heels have two very good players and probably first round NBA players in Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson, yet they defend hard also making it difficult for teams to get shots off and disrupt their rhythm.

In that respect, Syracuse will have to score 80 plus points to have a chance of causing an upset. You doubt this will be likely for the Orange to succeed and Roy Williams will be heading for another title game.

Oklahoma (2) v Villanova (2)
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In a much tighter affair, the two number two seeds face off and this game revolves around one player - Buddy Hield. Can Hield maintain his form of avergaing 29.3ppg in the tournament and can the Wildcats stifling defence have an answer to him.  The key will be to stop him getting a shot from the perimeter or the three point line. Hield can score at will seemingly, but Villanova so renowned for their defence have found some shooting shoes in previous rounds before stopping Kansas in the last round.

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Time for Buddy to shine

In a coin flip of a game in this instance, you tend to go with the team that has the better player(s) and in this game you take Buddy. In recent years, the team that won the tournament had that tournment's MVP - from Conneticut's Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier to Kentucky's Anthony Davis.  The time has come for Buddy to shine.

In the final, you will see North Carolina Tar Heels v Oklahoma Sooners; will that be one game too many for Buddy or will UNC yield to Hield?

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

12 Angry Men

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In recent years, there has been a fascination in my household with crime, justice and the legal process. Since we moved into our flat in May of last year we binged on Breaking Bad, and following that we struggled to find something to match the salivation we had for watching episodes at a continual pace.

I will always remember how me and my girlfriend watched the final four episodes up to the very last episode of Breaking Bad culminating in a 1am bedtime. The next night we finished the series and then we wandered the Netflix gallery looking for something.

Then late in the year we watched Making A Murderer, the fascinating documentary on Stephen Avery's cruel miscarriages of justice in Wisconsin. Following on from that we have watched Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line amongst other crime stories. It culminated with the viewing of Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men from 1957.

Based on the teleplay by Reginald Rose, and co-produced by Rose himself along with lead actor Henry Fonda. Lumet tells the story of a jury made of 12 men as they deliberate the guilt or acquittal of a defendant on the basis of reasonable doubt.

Fonda plays Juror No.8, the one man who suggests the young defendant is not guilty of murdering his father with a knife. Fonda, I shall refer to him as that as he is given no name, takes it upon himself to convince all the others that the facts they have been given are in fact false and not legitimate, ergo there is enough reasonable doubt to not send the boy to the electric chair.

On a hot day in New York, Fonda is the only one dressed in white, like an angel of Liberty placed in this room to tell the others that they are wrong to think the case is as open and shut as they believe. Fonda has to contend with racial bigotry from a number of the jury specifically Lee J. Cobb and Ed Begley, class prejudice from E. G. Marshall and ignorance by Jack Warden, a salesman who would dearly like to get to Yankees Stadium and is indifferent to the whole process.

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The original armchair detective

Fonda plays the role as an armchair detective, a man who gives convincing arguments but would prefer the mixed bag of men just take the time to consider that the fate of one mans life is in their hands and they should give it due consideration.

Lumet who would go on to direct such legendary films as Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon and Network, found this as his directorial debut and it marked him as a sure hand with actors able to garner strong performances from many an ensemble. 12 Angry Men is no different, as he gains a real mix of empathy and credibility from all the players.

Lumet tellingly puts his camera at a distance and as the film draws closer to a conclusion only then does he decide to use close ups and extreme close ups such as when Fonda asks Marshall to recall what he did a few nights previously. Marshall sits in his chair sweat running down his face, a depiction of pressure and the climate.

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Lumet found solace in the role of Fonda, a harbinger of justice and truth beyond doubt. The film helped pave the way for a global fascination with true crime and how any story has many sides. From the prosecutors to the defence to the victim to the jury, you need only look at the current series of The People vs OJ Simpson to see how a television series goes about showing differing viewpoints of a huge case.

The magic of the film comes from forgetting you are watching twelve strangers deliberating a young man's future. You forget you are watching a film, helped by the claustrophobic nature of Lumet's camera which builds up the tension in the room.  You also forget you are watching a black and white picture, so much colour and life is injected into the piece by the ensemble that 12 Angry Men has essentially become timeless, and that is beyond reasonable doubt.