Monthly Archives: January 2012

Weis’ show of strength

Charlie Weis has made it clear that he’s in charge as Kansas’ new football coach.

If Weis’ ego or self-confidence suffered a blow during his four seasons as coach at Notre Dame, or his one season coordinating a futile offense at Florida in 2011, it’s not showing.

Brock Berglund

The latest: Weis went public Friday with the reasons for Brock Berglund’s dismissal from the Kansas football team. There was really no need to go public; it had been announced earlier that Berglund, a prep star in Colorado who was charged with third-degree assault in Lawrence and missed the 2011 season, would not be member of KU’s football team in 2012.

But Berglund was not immediately granted a release from his scholarship so he could pursue other opportunities. Finally, on Friday, Weis and KU announced that Berglund had been released. But Weis went farther.

“Today, Brock Berglund is released from his scholarship at KU to pursue other opportunities,” Weis said in a statement released by the KU media relations department. “Brock and his representatives have publicly stated their case without any public response from me to this point. Brock spent the majority of the past calendar year in Colorado taking online courses at KU’s expense, which was nearly $40,000. At no time was Brock an active participant of the football team. Once competition was recruited at the quarterback position, Brock decided he no longer wanted to be a part of the team. He was expected to show up for a mandatory team meeting on Sunday, Jan. 15, but he sent an e-mail less than two hours before the meeting to inform us that he had decided to transfer and would not be attending the meeting. He was dismissed after following through on that promise.

“Although Brock has been granted his release, I only wish that he had showed the same courtesy that other players showed and came to talk to me. He decided that he did not have to follow the same protocol as the other department members of the football team. I believe no individual should be more important than the team. Brock did not see it that way.”

My reaction to Weis’ statement is simple: Was that really necessary?

Don’t construe what I’m writing here as standing up for Berglund. Nobody condones what he’s done since becoming a part of the Kansas football program. And it’s best for everyone that he moves on and tries to find his right fit.

But he is only 19 and while that’s old enough to know better, it’s difficult for me to buy that Weis needed to be as aggressive as he was.

What is the purpose of the statement? Is it simply to show he is in charge? Was there so much public reaction to the Berglund situation (I doubt that, seriously) that Weis felt the need to explain not only his stance, but the stance of the athletic department and the university?

I just don’t understand why this had to become an issue whatsoever. It’s not like anyone expected Berglund to find his way back to the Jayhawks and become KU’s quarterback, especially not after Weis brought in two heralded transfers to supposedly hold down that position for the next several years.

Berglund wasn’t even an afterthought. He was a never-thought, if you’ll allow me to make up a word. He never played one snap of football for KU.

That Weis chose to pile on doesn’t show well for the coach. It was an unnecessary show of strength. Charlie, we know you’re in charge. Shoving Berglund around publicly wasn’t necessary.

 

Friday musings

* I’m headed out tonight to see the Wichita State women’s basketball team play Illinois State at Koch Arena. I’ve only seen the Shockers play once and I really have no idea what to think about their current 10-game winning streak, except that it’s a 10-game winning streak. And those don’t grow on trees. The Missouri Valley Conference is not a strong women’s basketball conference, so that no doubt has played into Wichita State’s success. Illinois State, though, is 5-2 in the Valley and tied for second-place with Northern Iowa. The Redbirds are 10-8 overall. It will be interesting to see how big and vocal the crowd is tonight for the Shocker women, who have struggled for decades to gain a foothold in the Wichita market, mostly because WSU has been unable to sustain a quality product.

* I watched the pilot episode of “Luck,” the new horse racing/mob series starring Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, on HBO a couple of months ago and it didn’t grab me. Not sure why not, because Michael Mann (“Miami Vice”) and David Milch (“Deadwood,” NYPD Blue”) are behind the series and Hoffman and Nolte – not to mention a great supporting cast – can act a little bit. But I’m going to give it more of a chance. As you know if you’re a fan of HBO’s series, they can take a while to captivate. I don’t see how “Luck” can miss with the people involved. Stay tuned.

* I did enjoy the Fox debut of “Alcatraz,” but have not watched the two hours of the show since. I will. I will.

* I know you’re wanting my assessment of the new season of “American Idol.” Because you know how much I love that show. Well, so far, so good. I think the singers have been good. I think Jennifer Lopez has been outstanding. I think Steven Tyler has been wacky. I’m looking forward to getting past the auditions and settling on the 12 singers who could be YOUR AMERICAN IDOL!!!

* I have a funny feeling about Kansas’ game at Iowa State on Saturday afternoon in Ames. A really funny feeling. Do I like Iowa State more than I should? I would listen to that argument. I saw the Cyclones push KU in Lawrence a couple of weeks ago and the Jayhawks were lucky to escape that one with a victory.

* Could Wichita State be facing similar peril against Drake in Des Moines on Saturday night? I kinda doubt it. I know the Bulldogs have pulled some surprises this season and they’re not a bad team. But I don’t think the Shockers stumble at the Knapp Center against a Drake team that really doesn’t have the size (who in the Valley does, besides Creighton?) to match up with Wichita State. I’m thinking in the neighborhood of a 10-point Shocker victory.

* It’s cool that Lon Kruger is returning to Kansas State on Saturday night to coach Oklahoma against the Wildcats. Kruger is a good man and a good coach. Look at the team he built at UNLV. That team is impressive and those are all Kruger players as he winds through his first season at Oklahoma. I sense the Wildcats will get revenge for a loss at Oklahoma three weeks ago.

* I don’t get “The X Games.” I’m sure that makes me seem and sound old. So be it. I understand they’re a substitute, for some, in the off years for the Winter Olympics. But I never tune in.

* I saw this logo this week for the Spartan Golf Club, wherever that is, and shared it immediately on my Facebook page. Oh, you can friend me on Facebook very easily. And you can follow me on Twitter @boblutz. Why you would friend me or follow me is beyond me, but I’m not going to attempt to discourage you from doing either. Anyway, the logo, which I’m displaying here, really caught my eye. How do people come up with creativity such as this? I was never much of a student in art class. In fact, I might be the least artistic person in the world. I made an ‘F’ in junior high art class, more for my attitude about art than my abilities. The only artistic thing I could do halfway well was make pottery. But that wasn’t very good, either. Now just take a look at this log. Isn’t it something? How long did it take you to figure out its two-fold approach? I have stared at this thing for hours since I found it on my son’s Facebook page earlier this week. I think it might be the greatest logo in the history of the world. But I acknowledge there are other really creative logos. What are your favorites?

* Now that I think about my performance in art class, I must confess that I was a pretty average student all the way around. I did well in English and the liberal arts courses. But math and science were a struggle for me. At the time, I didn’t realize all the money was in those fields. I actually thought I could get rich with a liberal arts background. See, I told you I’m not very smart.

* I don’t think I ever had a 3.0 GPA in high school. Why am I telling you this?

* I did surprise a skeptical English teacher once with a paper on Chinese art, the least interesting subject I could think of to write about. I promised her I would get an ‘A’ on the paper and I did. I believe Mrs. Thomas was the teacher’s name and she was befuddled by my paper. It was one of the highlights of my academic career.

* When I hear people talk about the Super Bowl more than a week removed from the game, I tune them out. I’m rude that way.

* I am curious about the Peyton Manning saga in Indianapolis. This time comes for everyone, in every field. I don’t doubt for a second that Manning still has the ability to be an outstanding quarterback, but the Colts are moving on with a new GM, a new coach and a new quarterback, almost guaranteed to be Andrew Luck.

* And where does Manning go? How about the New York Jets? Wouldn’t that be something to have the Manning brothers quarterbacking the two NY franchises? I’ve heard Kansas City mentioned and I’m just not sure. What about Matt Cassell. Is everybody off the Cassell bandwagon? If so, it seems premature to me. Now, if you have a chance to bring Manning in and the price is right, I think you have to take a look at that.

* Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols have left the National League Central. But I think the St. Louis Cardinals are in a better position to continue to be successful than the Milwaukee Brewers. And I’m not being a homer when I saw that. Remember, St. Louis gets right-hander Adam Wainwright back this season after he missed the 2011 season with elbow ligament surgery. And the Cardinals have added Carlos Beltran to help replace Pujols’ potent bat. True, Milwaukee does have slugger Aramis Ramirez at third base now. But without Fielder – and presumably without Ryan Braun for 50 games – the Brewers won’t be the same offensively.

* I can’t wait for the beginning of spring training.

* I appreciate our unseasonably warm winter, but I worry about climate change. Does that make me a whacked-out liberal? Gee, I hope not. I hate labeling everyone. Don’t some conservatives worry about climate change, too.

* Does Newt Gingrich really have a chance to be the Republican nominee for President? Wow.

* I saw in “USA Today” today that Nebraska has the second-highest binge drinking rate in the country, just behind Wisconsin. Utah, Arkansas and Mississippi have the lowest. Kansas, presumably, is somewhere in the middle.

Thanks for reading and please, have a great weekend. I’m going to catch up on some movies, hopefully, if my wonderful wife approves. See you all soon.

 

*

 

Stutz vs. Dreiling

A reader sent me an e-mail today, asking me to compare current Wichita State 7-footer Garrett Stutz to former Kansas (and for one season, Wichita State) 7-footer Greg Dreiling, who was a McDonald’s All-American while playing at Kapaun Mount Carmel during the early 1980s.

Greg Dreiling turned a stellar college career at Wichita State and Kansas into 11 seasons in the NBA. And check out those Cleveland Cavaliers uniforms.

OK, why not?

Stutz, after all, is having an outstanding senior season for the Shockers, averaging 12.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. I think he’s a near-lock to be an All-Missouri Valley Conference first teamer, but let’s also remember this is Stutz’s first really good season for the Shockers. In his first three, he didn’t do all that much.

Dreiling was a mainstay on every college team on which he played, including as a freshman at Wichita State in 1981-82. He averaged 8.1 points and 4.2 rebounds for the Shockers before transferring to Kansas, where he played from 1983-86. During his junior season, in 1984-85, Dreiling averaged 13.1 points and 6.9 rebounds. His career totals at WSU and KU were 10.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. He finished with 1,443 points and 771 rebounds.

Stutz, meanwhile, has a chance to get to somewhere close to 1,200 points and maybe 650 rebounds. At the moment, he is averaging 7.5 points and 4.1 rebounds for his career. He has already played 126 career games, so he could finish with around 140. Dreiling played in 134 collegiate games.

So while Stutz is having a breakthrough senior season, his college career has not been comparable to that of Dreiling.

Remember, too, that Dreiling, now a scout for the Dallas Mavericks, played 11 seasons in the NBA as a backup center for Indiana, Dallas and Cleveland. He was a key player on three NCAA Tournament teams at KU, including the 1985-86 team that lost in the national semifinals to Duke, 71-67.

If there is a comparison to made between the two, it’s not showing itself.

Again, that is to take nothing away from Stutz. In fact, when I saw on ESPN.com that analyst Jay Bilas had picked his 10 best college big men in the country this season, I anticipated perhaps seeing Stutz’s name on the list. He, at times, has been dominant, as he was during an 86-74 WSU win over Evansville on Wednesday night at Koch Arena.

But Stutz’s name wasn’t on Bilas’ list, which included: Anthony Davis, Kentucky; Jared Sullinger, Ohio State; Thomas Robinson, Kansas; John Henson, North Carolina; Meyers Leonard, Illinois; Tyler Zeller, North Carolina; Andre Drummond, Connecticut; Mason Plumlee, Duke; Ricardo Ratliffe, Missouri; Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State.

The No. 10 player on Bilas’ list, Moultrie, averages 16 points and 11 rebounds for a very good Bulldogs team. So it’s an imposing list. But I would have to think Stutz would have been included had Bilas gone 15 deep.

As for the comparison to Dreiling, though, it’s a tough case to make. Stutz went into this season with career averages of 6.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. And he had played only 14.6 minutes per game. That’s not nearly enough to put Stutz into a discussion with Dreiling, even with the superb senior season Stutz is having.

Does Stutz have a chance to play in the NBA? You never count out a 7-footer. But while the offensive progress in Stutz this season is undeniable, he’s still not a very good defensive player. And he hasn’t been tested all that much by other quality big men, certainly not to the degree Dreiling during his years at KU.

 

The City League’s finest

Next week, right here on my blog, I’m going to pick the 50 best City League basketball players in history. At least my version of the 50 best, since I would never be so full of myself to suggest that my list is the list.

Where does former Heights standout guard Darnell Valentine (1974-77) rank among the top 50 City League basketball players?

What qualifies me to take on such an endeavor? Well, I have seen a lot of CL basketball over the years, starting in the mid-1960s when my father took me to City League triple-headers at the Roundhouse, now Koch Arena. Those were great days. We’d arrive before the first game, which started around 6, and stay until at least halftime of the last game.

I also covered high school sports, with a heavy emphasis on the City League, for about 13 years at The Wichita Eagle. I was the high school beat reporter during two of the greatest eras of basketball in league history – from 1975 through 1983, and from 1986 through 1991.

I’m working on my list and am open to suggestions. So if you have a player you think belongs on my Top 50 list, by all means let me know.

There are several interesting facets to this. One is attempting to figure out where current City League standouts Perry Ellis and Conner Frankamp belong. Hint: Both will be on the list. I’m not giving up any more than that. But what do you think? Where do Ellis and Frankamp belong, recognizing that Ellis is going to become the City League’s all-time leading scorer and potential a four-time state champion and that Frankamp has one season remaining after this one, when he could potentially pass Ellis to take over as the league’s all-time scoring leader.

I just wrote one of the longest and most awkward sentences in this history of the English language, but being that this is my blog I’m not going to worry too much about it.

Back to the list. For years and years, I have always thought that Darnell Valentine, Ricky Ross, Aubrey Sherrod, Greg Dreiling and Antoine Carr made up a clear-cut Top 5 list. I’m not so sure about that now. In fact, I would be surprised if those players are the Top 5 I come up with next week.

In fiddling with this list Tuesday, I wrote down about 75 names. Obviously, 75 doesn’t fit into 50, so some paring will have to be done. Some really good players will be left off the list. There will, I hope, be debate and second guessing. That’s the fun of lists, after all.

So what do you think? Who should definitely be on a Top 50 list for City League basketball players? Who should be in the Top 10. Who, for heaven’s sake, is your No. 1.

I am considering three players for the No. 1 spot. Can you guess who they are?

I’m going to break down the Top 50 in increments of 10, starting with Nos. 41-50 on Monday. I’ll do my very best to update every day, although there is one day next week in which it might be difficult. Let’s just say I’m having a medical procedure done and leave it at that.

Don’t be shy about sharing your opinions. I want to hear them. This is a fun list so let’s keep it fun.


Prince of Detroit

Wow, didn’t see this one coming. Prince Fielder to the Detroit Tigers. Wow.

Guess Detroit has replaced designated-hitter Victor Martinez, who is out for the 2012 season with a knee injury. Fielder brings one of

Prince Fielder is bringing a big bat and a nasty scowl to the Detroit Tigers.

the most potent bats in the big leagues and will join another heavy hitter, Miguel Cabrera, in the middle of the Tigers’ lineup.

If Cleveland, Kansas City, the Chicago White Sox or Minnesota had an inkling about challenging the Martinez-less Tigers in the American League Central this season, I think those hopes have been dashed.

Even with Fielder, though, losing Martinez is tough. He batted .330 last season and drove in 103 runs. So there is an argument to be made that the Tigers haven’t necessarily made themselves a better team than they were in 2011 by adding Fielder. But undoubtedly they won’t be worse, as they would have been without this kind of an addition.

Detroit won 95 games last season and lost to the Texas Rangers in the American League Championship Series. They were on the cusp. And now Fielder comes along after a 2011 season during which he had 38 homers and drove in 120 runs for the Milwaukee Brewers. And he’s only 27, which makes the nine-year, $214 million deal he’s reportedly signing with the Tigers at least logical. As logical as these kind of money deals can be.

Give credit to Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras. He never panicked, even as days, weeks and months ticked away without a deal for his prize client. I expected Fielder to end up in Washington. Or Seattle. Or Baltimore. The last I read, Detroit was thinking about making Fielder a one-year offer so that he could enter the free-agent market again next season.

Nine years isn’t one year. I’m pretty sure about that.

Now Detroit manager Jim Leyland can plug Fielder into a lineup that includes Cabrera, who batted .344 in 2011 with 30 homers and 105 RBIs. Austin Jackson returns as a catalyst in center field and Jhonny Peralta will try to build on a career year (.299, 21, 86) at shortstop. Good young players like catcher Alex Avila and outfielders Brenna Boesch, Delmon Young and Ryan Raburn are back. And perhaps second baseman Carlos Guillen can rebound from injuries that have cost him a bunch of games the past three seasons.

And don’t forget that Tigers’ pitching staff, anchored by Cy Young Award winner and American League MVP Justin Verlander. It also includes Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Doug Fister and promising youngster Jacob Turner.

I’m not crazy about Fielder’s continued ability as a first baseman. And in Detroit he will probably split the DH duties with Cabrera, also a first baseman. Cabrera could also play some games at third base, with Fielder at first, I suppose. But that gives up a lot defensively.

I think Fielder will continue to put up big offensive numbers for a while. But his body style is a concern. He’s built like his father, Cecil Fielder, who had monster seasons when he was 26 (51 homers, 132 RBI), 27 (44, 133), 28 (35, 124) and 29 (30, 117) but then started to taper off and was finished by the time he was 34. Cecil Fielder had only one more 100-RBI season after he turned 30.

Prince will be 28 shortly after the 2012 season begins. The Tigers, to some degree, are rolling the dice, especially as it pertains to the long term. But in the short term, Fielder’s signing makes Detroit the heavy favorite to repeat in the AL Central and to challenge Texas, the Los Angeles Angels, the Yankees, Boston and Tampa Bay in a tough, loaded American League.

* Jorge Posada has retired after 17 seasons with the New York Yankees and people are already making his Hall of Fame case.

In 17 seasons, Posada batted .273 with 275 homers and 1,065 RBIs. He also scored 900 runs, had 379 doubles and played in an incredible 125 postseason games, during which he batted .248. Posada also did a nice job handling a pitching staff, but threw out only 28 percent of would-be base stealers. His average 162-game season looked like this: .273 batting average, 24 homers, 94 RBIs.

Not bad at all. Certainly worthy of the Hall of Fame discussion.

But . . . you knew there would be a but as I come to the defense of a former St. Louis Cardinals catcher, Ted Simmons.

Simmons went on to play for a few other teams during a 21-season career that should have already landed him in the HOF, but hasn’t. And his chances aren’t getting any better with the passage of time.

Yet look at Simmons’ offensive numbers: .285 average, 248 homers, 1,389 RBIs, 483 doubles. He made eight All-Star teams to Posada’s five and caught a few more base stealers, 34 percent of them.

Simmons’ 162-game average season looked like this: .285, 16 homers, 92 RBIs.

But Simmons played in only a handful of postseason games and didn’t fare well in those in which he played.

Posada, meanwhile, was a postseason regular with the Yankees and delivered some clutch hits in big games. He spent quality time in the national spotlight.

I don’t have a problem with Posada someday getting into the Hall of Fame, but I don’t think Simmons should be ignored. He is one of the finest offensive catchers in baseball history and he wasn’t a travesty as a catcher, either.

 

 

Remembering a flawed man

After Joe Paterno’s passing, I started trying to think of profound things to write.

That’s what writers do, after all. We try to be profound. Or at least interesting. But profound is really our goal and one that we usually

Joe Paterno.

fall short of attaining. There are only so many profundities to go around and Hemingway and Fitzgerald took most of them.

So, what I have to say about Paterno, who died Sunday morning at 85 after a sterling career as Penn State’s football coach, is not profound. And it might not even be interesting. And not all of it is about Paterno, really. It’s about us. It’s about people.

I believe Paterno was mostly a good man. This comes from someone who never met him, never talked to him, never even saw him in person. I only know what I have read about him or heard him say. I know Paterno through the eyes of others. Until a few months ago, the only major knock on Paterno was that he stuck around too long to coach football at Penn State. And there wasn’t even a consensus on that point of view.

But for some, Paterno harbored an alleged child molester. He didn’t do as much as he should have done to make sure Jerry Sandusky, who is accused of numerous acts of indecent liberties with children, was stopped. And so there is a gray area when it comes to Paterno. There is a cloud around his silver lining.

And so what I was thinking was that people are complex and complicated. Forget Paterno the football coach for a moment and consider Paterno the man. By all accounts, at least leading up to the Sandusky allegations, he was exemplary.

I wrote harshly about Paterno in the days and weeks after the Sandusky investigation and ensuing allegations of wrongdoing came out. I chastised Paterno for not doing more than apparently reporting the alleged indiscretions to his supervisors. I, like many others, made the case that it was Paterno’s responsibility to get to the bottom of things himself, not to pass the buck. But he passed the buck and we don’t know how many other children were abused because of Paterno’s lackadaisical behavior.

Does it make him an accomplice to Sandusky’s alleged crimes? That’s going way too far. But it does color our perception of Paterno, the man. It does make us wonder about his motivations for simply passing it on and then not following up. Nobody gives Paterno a pass on this.

But how many of Paterno’s good deeds are swept away by this one terribly bad one? That, to me, is where the whole thing becomes confusing. How much was Paterno looking out for his own good and the good of the Penn State football program when he failed to go to the proper authorities – law enforcement – with the information he did have about Sandusky?

I believe only a few people are born bad and they are the sociopaths and psychopaths of society. I believe there are truly good people in the world, too; people who could never be sullied by the trappings of life. But the overwhelming majority of us are conflicted. Some of us is good, some of us is not so good. We do our best to hide the not-so-good but sometimes it will not stay down.

If I had been in Paterno’s shoes, I would have gone to the police with the news I had been given about Sandusky. Right? Surely, that’s right. I wouldn’t have just gone to my bosses and told them and washed my hands of the situation. Would I? I sure hope that’s not how I would have handled the situation, but I probably cannot say for sure.

Can you?

There are so many extenuating circumstances. And so many unknowns. We take the information we have been given and we create scenarios in our brain and we play them out and we finally come to a conclusion on how we would have behaved. But how trustworthy is that decision? Most of us want to believe the best about ourselves. But most of us never get an opportunity to truly find out what we’re made of.

Paterno was flawed. Like the majority of us, he wasn’t perfect. He didn’t always do the right thing. He was negligent, but was he purposefully negligent? Did he know he was doing the wrong thing by not going to the police? What was his level of self-awareness at the time?

Clarity is difficult to attain when it comes to Paterno. Not so with Sandusky, the alleged perpetrator of these horrible crimes. There are no national debates raging about him.

But with Paterno, there are. We imperfect human beings struggle to understand our imperfections. We believe we will always do the right thing, but in the end that’s not always what happens. Sometimes we do the wrong things and we don’t know why.

I choose to remember Joe Paterno as a man who wanted to do the right thing. And who almost always did. He did not do the right thing when it came to alerting the authorities about a monster in his midst. That’s too bad and it will forever taint his legacy. But I don’t think it should ruin it.

 

KU, KSU pull ‘em out

Kansas and Kansas State had big wins in the Big 12 Saturday afternoon.

KU let a comfortable lead slip away, then took back the game from Texas in Austin, winning 69-66.

And Kansas State thwarted a second-half Oklahoma State rally and broke an 11-game losing streak in Stillwater, beating the Cowboys, 66-58.

Now, just one thing Jayhawks and Wildcats. You could have made these wins a lot easier by making free throws. I’m beating this issue into the ground lately, but free throws are called “free” throws for a reason. And it’s imperative to shoot a decent percentage from the line. Anything below 70 percent is unacceptable.

KU was 14 of 23 from the line against Texas while K-State made only 23 of 40 free throws against Oklahoma State.

The Wildcats, especially, should have won easily but instead had some tense times in the second half. Fortunate, Kansas State’s free-throw shooting improved after halftime.

Still, nice wins. Every road win is a nice win and Kansas State, which I think projects as an NCAA Tournament bubble team. But the Wildcats increased their chances today and improved to 3-3 in the Big 12 and 14-4 overall. Right now, I’d rate K-State’s chances of reaching the NCAA Tournament at 70-75 percent, but the Cats still have a bunch of tough games to play, including road games at Baylor, Missouri, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Texas. We’ll see.

I did like the way K-State played defense Saturday, especially against Oklahoma State guard Keiton Page. He scored 17 points, just over two more than his average, but he needed 17 shots to do so. Page was just 4 of 17 from the floor and made only one of nine three-point attempts. Credit K-State junior Will Spradling for the defensive effort; he spent most of the game on Page.

It says a lot about OSU that it is depending so much on the 5-foot-8 Page. He’s a nice player, but he shouldn’t be the focal point of a team’s offense. It speaks to how far the Cowboys have fallen under fourth-year coach Travis Ford, who is going to have trouble surviving this season. The talent level at Oklahoma State has fallen off noticeably. There was an announced crowd of 10,338 at Gallagher-Iba Arena, which has a seating capacity of 13,611. The crowd looked sparse on television.

There was a sellout crowd at the Frank Irwin Center in Austin to watch a young and improving Texas team nearly knock off the No. 7-ranked Jayhawks. In the end, though, the Longhorns couldn’t quite pull it off. Even though Texas guard J’Covan Brown scored 24 points, he was just 7 of 26 from the floor.

After the game, KU coach Bill Self, talking on his post-game radio show to Chris Piper, said senior guard Tyshawn Taylor was playing as well as anybody in the country. That statement stopped me in my tracks, but consider the way Taylor has played against Iowa State, Baylor and now Texas, who am I to say Self is wrong?

It would be hard to imagine anyone playing better than Taylor, who had 22 points against Texas on 7-of-13 shooting and did not commit a turnover, his first turnover-less (is that a word?) since playing 33 minutes without one during a loss to Kentucky in the second game of this season.

In his past three games, Taylor has scored 78 points (26 ppg) and made 27 of 48 field goals and 10 of 21 shots from the three-point line. He’s playing like an All-American and so is junior power forward Thomas Robinson, who had 17 points and nine rebounds against Texas.

 

Friday musings

* My name is not nor never was Fausto Carmona. But I do lie about my age all the time.

* My son is a Cleveland Indians fan and he is sticking up for Carmona today. I think he believes it makes him a humanitarian. He

Here's a picture of What's His Name, who used to pitch for the Cleveland Indians. He said he was 28. Apparently he's 31.

believes, and perhaps rightly so, that Carmona had a choice to make: Either to lie about his age and name and get a chance to make a lot of money or continue to live in poverty. Can any of us really question the choice he made? As much light as is being made about Carmona today, there is a deeper issue here to consider. And it’s one that I’m sure will be written about extensively over the next few months as we approach baseball spring training.

* Kansas State’s basketball team needs a road win in the worst way. Trouble is, the Wildcats never win at Stillwater, against Oklahoma State, having lost 11 games in a row there. And OSU is the Wildcats’ opponent Saturday, in Stillwater. The ongoing drama “As the Wildcat Turns” continues at K-State with news of Jordan Henriquez’s suspension. It seems to always be something at Kansas State, which last season overcame these kinds of issue and went on to an NCAA Tournament run. But you have to wonder where all the drama stems from.

* How good is Missouri Valley Conference basketball this season? I think it’s pretty good. But not great and not as good as I thought it might be when Valley teams were doing well in the non-conference part of their schedules. As of this moment, Creighton and Wichita State are locks to make the NCAA Tournament. They are currently 18th and 25th in RPI, according to realtimerpi.com. But neither the Bluejays nor Shockers can afford to slip up and lose games they shouldn’t lose. That’s why Saturday night’s WSU game against Southern Illinois, at Koch Arena, is dangerous. SIU is No. 245 in the RPI, by far the worst in the Valley (Bradley, at No. 173, is ninth). Last season, you’ll remember, Wichita State lost at home to the Salukis and it’s the game that probably cost the Shockers an NCAA Tournament bid. Two seasons ago, WSU lost on the road at Evansville and it was the Purple Aces’ first conference win after double-digit losses. So, it can be argued that losses to bottom feeders have cost the Shockers an at-large NCAA Tournament spot the past two seasons. With road games remaining at Creighton, Missouri State, Drake and Illinois State, WSU can’t lose to a bad team at home and feel good about remaining an NCAA Tourney lock.

* Who do I like in this weekend’s NFL games, you ask? Well, I like the Patriots and the Giants and I think both games could be somewhat one-sided. New England and New York are the hottest teams going. The Patriots’ offense will be too much for Baltimore’s defense, although the Ravens are good defensively. Remember, Baltimore has lost road games at Jacksonville, Seattle, Tennessee and San Diego this season, although they also won a big road game in Pittsburgh. And I know New England doesn’t have any signature wins, but I don’t see how any team spots the Pats’ offense with quarterback Tom Brady, receiver Wes Welker and two unbelievable tight ends in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.

* The Giants, on the other hand, play well on both sides of the football. The only question about New York is its running game, which could be an issue if all the rain they’re getting in San Francisco muddies up the Candlestick Park turf. But I think that potential aspect is being overblown. New York will score points, even against a good 49ers defense. And on this stage – for the NFC championship – I expect San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith to wince.

* Scores? You want scores? OK, if you insist. New England 31, Baltimore 14. New York 27, San Francisco 17.

* Man, “Justified” is a good show on FX. I’m sorry I missed the first season, but the third season got off to a great start last week. And how good of a villain is Neal McDonough?

* Finally saw “Bridesmaids.” Can you believe it took me this long? It was really good and not nearly as offensive as I had been led to believe. Sure, there were some parts that made me blush a little. But I thought the movie was more poignant than pungent.

* I miss the music of Robert Palmer.

* After showing quite a bit of interest early on in the NBA, I’ve lost my way some. I’m back into my annual waiting-for-the-playoffs mode. Give me some good NBA story lines. Anyone?

* I just opened a magazine to a page that says: “The Future of Home Entertainment.” It depresses me because I have no idea how to work some of the simple things I have now.

* Sometimes I wish I would be re-incarnated as a female movie star so I could make the decision on what dress to wear to the Academy Awards. I know, it’s kind of weird.

* I thought Ricky Gervais was pretty mundane on the Golden Globes broadcast last Sunday night. I don’t really appreciate a mundane Gervais. The only upside of having him host a show like that is if he’s going to be on the cutting edge.

* I’m going to watch the “Deadwood” complete series of DVDs that were given to us as a wedding present more than a year ago. I have to find the time for that. Just have to.

* A sign of age: I can’t tell you the last time I watched MTV or even VH1. This disturbs me to some degree.

* I know I’m too cynical, but dang if I know how what to do about it. You can’t just turn cynicism off. It’s hard wired.

* Today I found myself wondering whether I’ll be able to leave my wife in good financial shape should I – you know . . . – yeah, that. It’s nice to care about somebody else for a change.

Thanks for reading my ramblings, provided you got this far. Have a great weekend and check the blog again this weekend. I’ll probably be making a post or two.

 

Make a free throw!!!

How many of you Kansas State basketball fans were screaming at your televisions – or pulling your hair out inside Bramlage Coliseum – on Wednesday night as the Wildcats paraded to the free-throw line and clanked their shots in the final 5:37 of the Wildcats’ game against Texas.

Yes, K-State held on for a win. But it should have been so much easier. The Wildcats won, 84-80, but thanks to shoddy free-throw shooting the Wildcats could easily have lost. And it would have been a terrible loss. An inexcusable loss.

I’m irritated by poor free-throw shooting. I think it shows a lack of discipline. I’m a stickler for making free throws. They’re free points. Look how hard teams in college basketball have to fight for points these days. And then to have the opportunity to step to the free-throw line without being guarded . . . c’mon man!!!

Kansas State helped Texas back into the game by missing five of seven free-throw attempts in the final 5:26 of the first half. But that was nothing compared to what was to come. Nothing at all.

Up by five, 73-68, with 5:37 left in the game, you knew it was going to become a free-throw shooting contest. You knew Texas coach Rick Barnes would order his players to foul K-State, which has only made two of every three free throws this season. And that’s what happened.

But instead of cinching the game at the line, the Wildcats almost threw it up. And it didn’t matter which player shot free throws. Even Rodney McGruder, the star of the night with a career-high 33 points, missed two big free throws late. During that final 5:37, Kansas State was 4 of 14 from the line. And that’s why, except for a costly Texas turnover in the final seconds, this game was perilously close to slipping away from K-State.

We should all be talking about McGruder this morning. He was great and has been for seven games in a row, in which he is averaging 22.7 points.

Some have questioned McGruder’s ability to take over a game. More than ability, really, they have questioned his mentality about being “the man” on a top-flight team.

Well, McGruder has been “the man” for a while now. He also had eight rebounds and shot the ball extremely well (11 of 17 FG, four of six three-pointers and 7 of 10 from the free-throw line.)

But he missed those two free throws late. Almost everybody for Kansas State missed free throws late. And there’s just no excuse for it. What should have been an eight- or nine-point win instead was a nail-biter.

 

The road is where the wins are for WSU

What a game tonight by Wichita State senior guard Toure Murry, who willed the Shockers to a tough 71-68 win on the road at Northern Iowa.

I’m trying to think of a better performance in a game by Murry and even though he’s had a bunch of good ones, I can’t recall one in which he was better. And what a second half. Every time the Shockers needed a basket – and there were numerous big shots made by WSU tonight – Murry stepped up. He never forced anything. He took what the Northern Iowa defense gave him and was the sparkplug in this huge win, another road victory for a bunch of road warriors.

I don’t know where Wichita State gets the supreme confidence it takes to go on the road and win game after game in the Missouri Valley Conference. But no matter where it comes from, it’s an impressive trait. This was one of the toughest road wins the Shockers have had against a Northern Iowa team that looked to settle in early in the second half.

But a smart switch to a zone defense by WSU coach Gregg Marshall paid dividends. Northern Iowa looked tentative as Wichita State dropped back into a zone after token pressure defense. It worked better than I’m sure even Marshall imagined and the Shockers’ defense was at its best on UNI’s final possession of the game, which resulted in a forced and pressured three-pointer.

So Wichita State goes 2-0 on the road this week, starting with a Sunday night win at Indiana State. Now the Shockers come home for two – against Southern Illinois on Saturday and against Evansville next Wednesday – before taking to the road again for a game at Drake on Jan. 28.

The Shockers nearly moved into sole possession of first place in the Valley, but Creighton managed a one-point win at Missouri State after the Bears led for much of that game. Wichita State and Creighton are tied atop the standings at 7-1 as they get closer to a showdown on Feb. 11 in Omaha. Creighton avenged a loss earlier in the season to Missouri State and the Bluejays are the only team to have knocked off WSU, having beaten the Shockers at Koch Arena.

Clearly, Creighton and Wichita State have established themselves as the top two teams in the Valley. And if the NCAA Tournament selections were announced today, both would get bids. But there’s a long ways to go. Winning games like the Shockers won Wednesday night at Northern Iowa, though, are priceless.

Murry had 24 points on 8-of-10 shooting. He made all six of his free throws. He had three steals and made two three-pointers. He was tremendous as the Shockers found a way to again win on the road. It’s an amazing streak that has seen WSU win 15 of its past 16 road games, including an NIT game against Virginia Tech last season.

In a game in which home court means so much, it’s an incredible accomplishment. The boys at ESPN should be talking about it. Nothing makes a group of guys on a team – any team – feel more invincible than going into a hostile environment and sending the fans home unhappy.

Kudos to Wichita State for this amazing road success streak. It defies explanation, but I doubt the Shockers are trying to find one.