Monthly Archives: February 2012

About KU basketball

Thanks to a reader Maddie Vosburgh, who points out a significant under-the-radar statistic that just might be pertinent for the Jayhawks this season.

Amy Adams and Matthew Goode starred in the movie "Leap Year." But the Kansas basketball team has made its own box-office success in leap years.

Did you know that all three KU national championships – 1952, 1988 and 2008 – have occurred during a leap year? Of course you know 2012 is a leap year; Feb. 29 is Wednesday.

I don’t know what this means. I don’t know if it means anything. I just know that when Maddie pointed this out to me, a couple of books flew off their shelves and I heard a strange sound coming from the attic.

Kansas was in the NCAA championship game in 1940, another leap year. The Jayhawks played in the title game in 1953, 1957, 1991 and 2002, non leap years.

I guess the moral to this story is that if you’re trying to come up with reasons why Kansas can win the national championship this year, you have another one in your aresenal.

* Hey, Marcus Morris. Nothing good happens in a bar after 2 .m. I suspect you’ve known that for a while, yet you apparently just can’t help yourself.

Morris and his twin brother, Markieff, were back in Lawrence on Saturday for Kansas’ thrilling overtime win over Missouri at Allen Fieldhouse. They apparently went out for some fun after the game. Nothing wrong with that. Except when the fun turns into a 2:37 call to the police for a disturbance at a Lawrence bar. And when that call results in Morris being cited for misdemeanor battery.

Morris, who played for three seasons at Kansas and now is a member of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, is scheduled to appear in Lawrence Municipal Court on March 20.

I don’t know what happened inside that bar. Perhaps someone was trying to set Morris up. I just know that when you’re a current or former KU player, it’s important to be careful. And to not do something silly that gets you into trouble. Leave the bars when you’re supposed to leave the bars.

* I’m concerned that KU junior Thomas Robinson is getting slightly outside the lines with his court behavior. It was noticeable in the Jayhawks’ game against Texas A&M last week and it flared again during Monday night’s win at Oklahoma State. Robinson is a spirited player and that emotion serves him well. Until it doesn’t, and then it becomes a hindrance. There’s a fine line. Here’s hoping Robinson doesn’t cross that line because he’s a special player.

* That said, is Robinson KU’s clear cut Most Valuable Player? Or does senior guard Tyshawn Taylor deserve the nod? I think it’s Robinson, still, but Taylor is right there. I think both are solid All-America candidates.

 

The art of basketball officiating

I go to a lot of college basketball games. And before every game, I like to check out the three guys who will be officiating.

College basketball official Mark Whitehead has worked two Final Fours. He must know what he's doing, right?

I don’t know any college basketball officials well. Just enough to perhaps say “hello,” but that’s about it. Yet I feel badly for these guys, even though they get paid a nice chunk of change for carrying a whistle.

Officiating college basketball has to be the most difficult job there is. There has never been a game in which the refs weren’t booed unmercifully, and sometimes it gets much uglier than that.

In the wake of Kansas’ impressive comeback win over Missouri on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse, there has been much discussion of how that game was called, especially in the final seconds of regulation and the last 8.3 seconds of overtime.

The popular theory among Missouri fans is that Thomas Robinson hammered Phil Pressey on his drive to the basket at the end of regulation while making a tremendous shot block. And that, in the final seconds of overtime, KU guard Tyshawn Taylor was the beneficiary of a touch foul called against Pressey with 8.3 seconds remaining. Taylor went to the line and made both free throws to put the Jayhawks up, 87-86. That ended up being the final score.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz went so far as to say Missouri was jobbed Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse by an officiating crew that failed to call an obvious foul on Robinson, but did blow the whistle on Pressey’s dubious foul of Taylor.

Kansas fans, of course, don’t see it that way. And even if they did, they would point out that the Tigers were the beneficiaries of similar questionable calls during Missouri’s close win over KU in Columbia earlier this month.

In short, everybody involved with a college basketball team – the players, coaches, fans and, I’m sure, cheerleaders and pep band – think the refs are out to get their team.

And these poor guys in the black-and-white striped shirts have to try and put all of that extraneous noise out of their minds and, presumably, attempt to call every game they officiate right down the middle.

Right down the middle.

Is it even possible? Don’t factors out of their control weigh into some of the calls and decisions officials make during a game? Are they really expected to be perfect?

I think, by and large, officials do an incredible job. Coaches are constantly in their ears. The game is moving at a million miles an hour. The fans, especially in an atmosphere that existed in Lawrence on Saturday, are rabid, bordering on insane.

Yet three guys with whistles are expected to keep the game under control.

I don’t know how they do it, if indeed they do it.

The officials who worked the KU-MU game were Mark Whitehead, Gerry Pollard and Brent Meaux. It was Whitehead’s 76th game of the season, close to three times the games a college basketball team has played. Pollard has worked 65 games; Meaux only around 45.

Whitehead worked the Final Four last season,  his second. He must be good, right? Pollard has been around for a while and is highly respected by those whose job it is to determine a level of respect for a college basketball official.

I’ve seen hundreds of games over the years and it’s difficult for me to determine which officials are doing a good job vs. those who are doing poorly. I just know that if you’re working a Big 12 or a Missouri Valley Conference game you have to have done something right to get to that level.

So, I have concluded, officiating is an imperfect science, one that will never be perfected. One man’s block is another man’s charge. Instant replay, so prevalent today, is good at showing when an official gets a call wrong. But mostly it shows that the refs get a high percentage of the calls correctly. And if the game were played in slow motion, that percentage would get even higher.

But it isn’t. Basketball is played by tremendous athletes who can all run and jump the way most of us only dream of doing. Attempting to officiate these athletes is a thankless job, one that makes even the best referees appear, at times, to be completely off base.

It’s an impossible job, handed to imperfect human beings who are susceptible to their surroundings. Does a crazed home crowd sway an occasional call? Sure, without a doubt. Basketball officials don’t get them all right. But they don’t get many wrong, usually. And I’m here today to praise them because somebody’s gotta do it.

 

Friday musings

* It makes me mad when I read that the doors to the Heights gym had to be closed at 5:50 p.m. – 10 minutes before the start of the girls game, for crying out loud – Thursday night for the Heights-North basketball game. How many people in town wanted to be there for the game, which matched up – potentially for the final time in their high school careers – Kansas recruits Perry Ellis and Conner Frankamp? Yet Heights didn’t want to move the game to a larger venue because it was the final game ever to be played in the Heights gym. Listen, I have nostalgia for the Heights gym, too. Some great players and great teams have played there. But when you’re turning away hundreds, and hundreds more who might have attended the game stay at home so as not to fight the crowd, you’re dropping the ball. Around 1,200 got to see North and Frankamp beat Heights, 47-38. But to do so, they had to arrive at least two hours before the game. Silly.

* Kudos to Cox 22 for broadcasting the game on local cable television. Cox does a great job with high school sports in the area. So at least most of those who didn’t get into Heights or didn’t try had a Plan B.

* Can’t wait for Missouri-Kansas on Saturday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse. I’ve been chided some, I hear, for picking this game to go to instead of Wichita State’s home game against Drake. There are those who believe the sports columnist for The Wichita Eagle should be about Wichita first and foremost. And I agree with them, under most circumstances. But this could be the final Missouri-Kansas meeting ever. And it’s a huge game with great implications. WSU, meanwhile,  has wrapped up the regular-season championship in the Missouri Valley Conference. It’s a no-brainer for me.

* I can’t believe the great Meryl Streep has won only two Academy Awards. Now Streep, who is up for the lead actress Oscar for her role in “The Iron Lady,” has been nominated 17 times. But only two wins? That amazes me.

* I love Billy Crystal hosting the Oscars? He should have been hosting every year.

* My top five favorite television shows of the season: 1) Justified; 2) The Walking Dead; 3) Parks and Recreation: 4) The Office; 5) Modern Family. Just missing out: American Idol, The Middle, The Voice, Smash.

* Another country act, Miranda Lambert, is set to perform at the Intrust Bank Arena. This is getting ridiculous, folks. I know we’re a country and western town, but when the doors opened to the IBA just more than two years ago, I didn’t envision 80 percent of the shows being country.

* I’m going to write more about this at some point, but how much consideration, if any, should Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall get for national coach of the year? I’m thinking he should at least be mentioned.

* I wrote about former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa the other day. La Russa is in town today and will speak at Wichita State baseball’s First Pitch Banquet tonight in the Multipurpose Center at Koch Arena. You know how much I love the Cardinals, so it was a treat to visit over the telephone with La Russa, who is in camp this spring with the Detroit Tigers as he transitions to life after managing baseball. He was engaging and friendly and we chatted a lot about the Cardinals. I’m happy that La Russa, one of the game’s legendary managers, left on such a high note after it appeared St. Louis was dropping out of sight in the National League wild-card race in late August. But instead of folding, the Cardinals got hot while the Atlanta Braves wilted. It’s a great story and La Russa told me a book recounting the season is on the way, written by long-time St. Louis Post-Dispatch baseball writer Rick Hummel.

* I just finished my Lutz Live Chat (LLC) on Kansas.com. Normally I do those on Tuesdays, but that day didn’t work this week. Is it strange that it’s one of the highlights of my week. I have a great group of live chatters who seem to genuinely care about my well being.

* We’re going to try Jose Pepper’s tonight for dinner. It’ll be our first time. Thoughts, anyone?

* As I write this, I have a stack of newspapers nearby. I can’t imagine not having a newspaper in my hands. I’m all for technology and I think it’s great that Kansas.com exists because it’s affords us so many more platforms to share information. But I hope the newspaper never completely goes away.

* I believe the Intrust Bank Arena has helped the music scene in town, but perhaps not in the way you would imagine. I think other venues are bringing better acts to Wichita as a way to compete with the IBA. And the Stiefel Theater in Salina has been a great addition to the state’s music scene. I’m tempted to drive to Salina for the upcoming Bruce Hornsby and Foreigner shows.

* Thanks for reading. The college and high school basketball posteason is one of my favorite times of the year. Not that we’re there yet, but it’s close. I’m looking forward to being in Lawrence tomorrow and to being in St. Louis next weekend for the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. Have a great weekend, everyone. And check back on the blog this weekend.

 

Kansas vs. Wichita State

This basketball game needs to happen. And it needs to happen in the Sweet 16 round of the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Wichita State basketball coach Gregg Marshall has a team that could go far in the NCAA Tournament. Hopefully far enough to meet Kansas.

We need to resolve this thing once and for all, although most KU fans would dispute the notion that there’s a “thing.”

As co-host of a sports talk radio show and writing a newspaper column, the one topic I hear about more than any other, it seems, is a curiosity about how Wichita State would stack up against Kansas. This comes up, mind you, only when Wichita State has an outstanding team, as is the case this season.

The Shockers are rolling and at times look like they could beat almost any team in the country. Including Kansas.

But what would happen if the teams actually did play in the NCAA Tournament?

Kansas’ tradition carries weight. But Kansas has also lost NCAA games to Missouri Valley Conference teams Bradley and Northern Iowa in recent years. Just last season, VCU sent the Jayhawks home in the Elite Eight.

As good as the Jayhawks have been this season – and they have been surprisingly good given their lack of experience – I do not believe they are a far superior team to Wichita State. Nor do I think it would be a fluke if the Shockers beat KU.

I do think the Jayhawks have an edge with 7-foot Jeff Withey and 6-10 Thomas Robinson. Wichita State center Garrett Stutz would match up well with Withey, perhaps, but who do the Shockers have to battle the physically-gifted Robinson?

Then again, the Shockers are an outstanding transition team and would be able to keep up with the Jayhawks in the full court. Wichita State has more shooters and more ways to score.

When I think about this potential game, I get worked up. I want it to happen.

It apparently is never going to happen during the regular season – and you know how I feel about that – so all we can hope for is a postseason meeting between the Jayhawks and Shockers. It has happened only once, in 1981, and I believe all Wichita State fans remember how that one went.

Shocker basketball fans love their team, no doubt about it. But they can become obsessed with KU. I don’t really get it, but it’s real. Perhaps it’s all the success the Jayhawks have had over the years. Perhaps it’s a perception that KU fans think they’re a little better than the rest. Perhaps there is some class envy here.

I think Wichita State-Kansas could develop into one of the finest basketball rivalries in the country if the two schools ever decided to give it a chance. It’s KU, of course, that does the most to hold it back. And by “the most,” I mean the Jayhawks virtually ignore the fact that Wichita State even exists.

And that’s another reason WSU fans would love a shot at the almighty Jayhawks.

The best chance of it happening is for Kansas to secure a regional No. 1 seed and for Wichita State to be seeded No. 4 or No. 5 in the same regional. Two wins for each would put them against one another in the Sweet 16 and the Shockers would finally get their chance to back up their fan base’s tough talk.

I shouldn’t be looking this far ahead. But I can’t help myself. I’ve had an epiphany in the past couple of days. It’s time for a Wichita State-Kansas basketball game to happen.

How would it turn out?

I have no idea. I think WSU would be in the game, though. I can’t imagine it would be a blowout.

The Shockers are good. Really good. And there isn’t a Kansas fan – at least an honest one – who would tell you he or she wasn’t a little nervous about the potential of this game.

If the two teams played 10 times on a neutral floor, I think KU would win six. Maybe seven.

But there’s not that much difference in these teams. The Shockers would benefit from having such a veteran group of players, mostly seniors. There would be no intimidation factor.

Kansas has two great players in Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. They would be clearly the two best players on the floor in this fantasy game. But they wouldn’t run over Wichita State, which would have an overall edge in guard play, I believe. Joe Ragland is playing at a high level, as is Toure Murry.

And what about the coaches? How much fun would it be to watch Gregg Marshall match wits with Bill Self?

Yes, this game needs to happen. At high noon, if need be. At 10 paces.

 

A bad start for WSU baseball

Nobody should panic about Wichita State’s 0-3 start to its baseball season.

However, it’s fair to point out that the same things that held back the Shockers last season and in some previous seasons were prevalent during the weekend’s round-robin tournament in San Angelo, Texas.

Wichita State struggled to hit (.225 average) and play defense (nine errors) in losing to Louisiana-Lafayette, Santa Clara and Texas State.

The Shockers scored only five runs in three games and wasted good starting pitching in the Lafayette and Santa Clara games. Outside of Game 2 relievers Aaron Labrie and Drew Rainey and Game 3 starter Mitch Mormann, the Shockers pitched well.

But pitching has never been the issue with this team. It’s been a lack of offense and a lax defense that have hurt Wichita State and both were on full display over the weekend in Texas.

It’s not like the Shockers were facing a bunch of top-notch pitchers, either.

The starting pitcher from Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, Joe Zimmerman, was 1-3 with a 4.71 ERA last season. He is a transfer from New Orleans, where over the course of two seasons he was 1-7 with a 7.59 ERA.

Santa Clara, which beat the Shockers, 7-1, in 12 innings, was 17-34 last season. The three pitchers who held WSU to one run and eight hits in 12 innings last season combined for a 6.03 ERA and allowed 238 hits in 173 1/3 innings, walking 58 and striking out 61.

Meanwhile, Texas State starting pitcher Travis Ballew, the winner during a 7-4 win over WSU, was 4-2 with a 5.06 ERA last year. Freshman Austen Williams pitched three shutout innings for the save.

Sure, it’s early. And the Shockers have a lot of new faces in their lineup. It’s impressing that Wichita State’s pitching, except for a couple of hiccups, was as impressive as it was during the opening weekend of the season.

But an 0-3 start isn’t a good way to start any season. It’s the first time during the Gene Stephenson-era, which started in 1978, that the Shockers have opened 0-3. They dropped their first two games in 2007 to 18th-ranked Pepperdine but won the third game of the series and went on to finish 53-22 and play in an NCAA Super Regional.

There are a lot of games to play. But three are in the books and none of them went well.

 

This is Rag-land

Two weeks ago, 7-footer Garrett Stutz was easily Wichita State’s Most Valuable Player for the 2011-12 season. Well, can we put a hold on that vote?

Wichita State senior guard Joe Ragland.

Senior guard Joe Ragland was amazing against Saturday during the Shockers’ 91-74 BracketBusters win at Davidson. And while Stutz is probably still the MVP, it’s fair to pause and consider Ragland’s contributions. In doing so, be prepared to perhaps change your mind.

Ragland has been good all season, but he has been brilliant in some of the Shockers’ biggest games. Against UNLV in December, Ragland scored a season-high 31 points on 9-of-12 shooting. He was 8 of 9 from the three-point line.

In a big home win over Utah State, Ragland made 6 of 10 shots and 4 of 7 three-pointers, finishing with 19 points.

At Creighton last Saturday, Ragland scored 28 points on 9-of-12 shooting and made two of his four three-point attempts.

And his 30-point outburst against Davidson on Saturday included 11-of-14 shooting; three of four from behind the three-point arc.

Throw in games against Drake, Southern Illinois and Northern Iowa, and Ragland is a combined 59 of 88 (67 percent) from the field, 28 of 42 (66.7 percent) from the three-point line and has made 22 of 25 (88 percent) free throws.

Ragland has had some of the best games ever played by a Wichita State guard, and that includes a bunch of high-quality guards. He is playing not like an All-Missouri Valley Conference player, but like an All-American.

It’s easy to get flowery about the Shockers, who improved to 24-4 with Saturday’s win. There is no denying Ragland’s impact on this team. Remember, this is a player who last season, his first for the Shockers after transferring from North Platte (Neb.) Community College, shot only 44.3 percent from the floor and just 31.3 percent from the three-point line.

His shooting numbers have dramatically improved this season, to 56.6 percent (128-226) from the field and 47.5 percent (47-99) from three-point range. And Ragland is doing a lot of other things well, too. He rebounds well for a small guard and is a good passer, too.

If there was an MVP vote for the Shockers, I suspect he would get a good number of votes. So would senior Toure Murry, whose overall game has never been better. Murry was outstanding against Davidson, too, and is a big contributor to the Shockers even when he doesn’t score a lot.

Last season, depth was Wichita State’s calling card. This season, Shockers’ coach Gregg Marshall prefers to keep his rotation tight, usually with seven or eight players. But the firepower on this team far exceeds that of a team that won 29 games and an NIT championship in 2010-11.

Last season, a Shocker player scored 20 or more points only four times. That’s how balanced the offensive attack was. And only once did a Shocker go for more than 20 – Stutz had 24 in WSU’s semifinal NIT win over Washington State.

This season, a Wichita State player has scored 20 or more points in a game 17 times. Stutz scored at least 20 six times; Ragland five. Murry and senior Ben Smith have done so three times.

This offensive explosion has elevated the Shockers, who are shooting 59.2 percent from the field, 57.1 percent from the three-point line and 86 percent from the free-throw line in the past four games. Just when you thought they were due for a cooler shooting game, they made 35 of 55 shots in picking apart Davidson.

The beat goes on for the Shockers, who are playing at an unbelievably high level. Every performance is better than the last.

How long can it last? You tell me. This team is not cooling off one bit.

 

Friday musings

* I’ll bet Wichita State basketball fans are holding their collective breath as Saturday’s BracketBusters game at Davidson approaches. I get it; the Shockers are due for some mediocrity after playing at a high level for a long time now. Everything looks better when a team is shooting the basketball the way Wichita State is. And we all know how fickle shooting can be. But the Shockers are playing well in every phase of the game, which is why I think they’ll handle Davidson, then win on the road against Illinois State on Wednesday night, clinching the Missouri Valley Conference championship. All of the attention Wichita State has started to receive nationally this week is deserved. With a win over Davidson on Saturday, I think the Shockers will appear in the Top 20 in next week’s polls.

* Kansas State could slip into the NCAA Tournament with a 9-9 record in the Big 12 Conference. So I guess that means the Wildcats’ upcoming road games against Baylor and Missouri aren’t “must-win” games. Then again, if K-State drops to 6-9 in conference play by losing both games are the Cats assured of winning the next three against Iowa State, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State? I think K-State’s NCAA Tournament chances are about 40-60.

* I don’t have Lin-Mania. But I sure would like to see New York Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin play a game. I’ll finally get my chance

Jeremy Lin of the New York Knickerbockers. That's Knicks, for short.

Sunday, when the Knicks play on ABC against the Dallas Mavericks. I have only seen highlights of Lin, and this is a fantastic story that has been shoved down our throats by, mostly, ESPN. I know we’re a nation of sports junkies, but are we starting to see the first backlash against ESPN? Is there simply too much ESPN? I’m curious what you think about this, so please drop in a comment. There are times, of course, when I’m so thankful for the ESPN networks. And times, when it comes to stories like Jeremy Lin and Peyton Manning, when I think I’m going to scream.

* Here’s what’s going to happen with Manning. He’s going to play for another team next season. Get back to me when he decides which team that’s going to be.

* I like to keep me on on the concert scene, because I’m a concert kind of guy. I’m elated that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are coming to the Intrust Bank Arena on April 26. And it’s nice that Nickelback is stopping by the IBA on June 8. So far, though, Van Halen is not coming to Wichita, which is a shame. Nor is Drake, Radiohead, Janelle Monae, Roger Waters, Red Hot Chili Peppers or The Black Keys and Arctic Monkeys, who are touring together this spring. It’s early and I still hold out hope that some of these acts will be in our downtown arena, which has upcoming shows from George Straight and Martina McBride (Saturday), Winter Jam (Feb. 24), Jeff Dunham (Feb. 25), Jason Aldean (March 16), and Rodney Carrington (March 31).

* I’m loving “Smash” on NBC. I wouldn’t think I would be loving that show, which is about the production of a Broadway play based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. But through two episodes, I’m hooked. Maybe it’s because “American Idol” alum Katherine McPhee is in one of the starring roles. I thought McPhee was a terrific singer during her time on AI, but she didn’t win and then disappeared. This show, though, could make her a mega-star. She has the talent and the looks to be one. What a demanding role this is for her, too.

* I follow politics closely but I don’t really ever say much about what I think, at least publicly. I wonder why? It seems like politics just starts fights. Why can’t we all just get along? Or at least be tolerant of one another’s views? I’m one of those who wants everyone to have a piece of the pie, as long as they’re willing to put forth their best effort to get a piece of the pie. I’m going to stop now.

* Whitney Houston’s death makes me sad. When you look back on her early videos, you see all of that innocence. The fame and accompanying bad decisions took her from us too early. What a waste, but what a reminder, too, that we’re all human.

* I’m excited about baseball season. But that’s hardly news. I’m always excited about the beginning of baseball season. And that beginning is here, with pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training in Florida and Arizona. And Wichita State’s baseball team is playing a game today in Texas.

* The Grammys are, by far, my favorite awards show. I watched every second of the telecast last week. There are always some highs (Bruno Mars, Paul McCartney, Glen Campbell, Jennifer Hudson, Taylor Swift, Bruce Springsteen) and always some lows (Nicki Minaj?, Tony Bennett,  The Beach Boys, Electronic Dance Music). It pains me to cast Bennett and The Beach Boys into the “lows” category. But time doesn’t appear to be on the side of either, at this point.

* Taylor Swift made me aware that I love a woman who can play the banjo.

* Wichita State 74, Davidson 66.

* Baylor 66, Kansas State 56

* Kansas names its score against Texas Tech. Poor Billy Gillispie.

* LeBron James just can’t help himself, can he? Why in the world would he tell the Cleveland media he’s open to the idea of returning to the Cavaliers at some point? Why, why, why? Stop making your existence so difficult, LeBron.

* Headed out tonight to watch North’s Conner Frankamp play against Kapaun Mount Carmel. I’m hooked. I try to see him play as much as I can. And I’m also a big Perry Ellis guy. I saw him play a half last week at Northwest, during which the Heights Falcons built a 40-20 lead. Ellis has developed his game greatly this season.

* Have a great weekend everyone. I’ll be blogging tomorrow after the WSU-Davidson and Kansas State-Baylor games. I hope you check back then. I’m also car hunting with my wife Saturday. That should be fun.

 

Take my swimsuit model, please

What I am about to admit here is monumental.

And before you even think it, I’m going to quash the notion that I’m making this admission out of respect for my wife. While I have a great deal of

Kate Upton, that's here here with her left arm in back of her head, is this year's "Sports Illustrated" swimsuit issue cover girl. Hooray for Kate.

respect for my wife (we’ve been married for nearly 14 months, by the way), she does not mandate my reading, or in this case looking, habits or censor my material. Just last night I was looking at some old “Real Detective” magazines. Saucy stuff.

So I am free to look at whatever I choose, which includes the annual “Sports Illustrated” swimsuit issue, which arrived in our mail Wednesday. I wasn’t home to pick up the mail, so this time my wife did. And she put the magazine in the same place she puts all of my magazines, in a magazine basket in my office. It’s not really a “magazine” basket, per se, because other things can be placed inside. But because she puts my magazines in the basket, I have chosen to call it a magazine basket.

Anyway, where was I?

Oh yeah, the SI swimsuit issue just doesn’t do it for me anymore. I mean, how many gorgeous young women dressed scantily, to say the most, can you look at?

So as I turned the pages today, I was struck by how much I wasn’t being drawn in. Sure, the women are beautiful. And tan. And curvy, as us old-timers like to say. But the SI swimsuit issue seems so 1980 to me.

Cheryl Tiegs and Elle MacPherson and Christie Brinkley were my girls. I say “my girls” in an innocent way, because I know my wife reads my blog. Oh, and Rachel Hunter and especially Kathy Ireland, my all-time favorite.

But what I like about the issue nowadays isn’t the skin, it’s that it signals the beginning of spring. I know, spring is still more than a month away. But the pictures of all the girls in all of the sun without all of the clothes – they make me think of spring.

The problem is – I guess it’s a problem, I’m not really sure – is that spring is about all I think about when it comes to this particular issue of SI. Last year, I don’t even think I perused the swimsuit issue before putting it somewhere soon forgotten. I opened the 2012 edition  only so I could have some background before I started writing this blog post.

And having looked at every page, I’m left feeling empty. I’m left thinking how old it must get for these models to pose for these pictures all day long in the pulsating heat and tropical wonder of such places as Panama, Zambia, Victoria Falls, Australia and the Seychelles, wherever the heck that is. In many of the poses, the models are put in what looks to be uncomfortable positions. Many have on or both arms stretched above or behind their heads. I might ask my wife to try it later, who knows?

Arms, I have deduced, are a big deal when it comes to swimsuit modeling. As you’ll notice in the cover shot of Kate Upton, her left arm is raised behind her head, exposing an arm pit. Exposed arm pits are another big deal, it appears, because there are many in the swimsuit issue.

I’m told just to get one usable shot can require hundreds, if not thousands, of camera clicks. Everything has to be just right. There cannot be a hair out of place.

In a continuing swimsuit issue trend, female athletes are the victims – I mean, recipients – of body painting. It’s an art form in which someone with paint and a brush paints the nude bodies of soccer player Alex Morgan, golfer Natalie Gulbis and swimmer Natalie Coughlin, to make it look as if they’re wearing a swimsuit. I swear, as long as I looked, I could not tell that was paint on those places.

In related news, 83 percent of high school boys now list body painting as their career goal. The new big hangout is Sherwin-Williams.

But my enthusiasm for SI’s swimsuit issue is nearly dead. There’s nothing in there for me. It’s just a bunch of pretty faces, legs, arms and arm pits.

 

Catching up

It’s been a while since I made a regular post to my blog, what with the City League’s top 50 list taking up last week.

A lot is going on, especially in college basketball. Wichita State looks like a potential 4- or 5-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Kansas could be headed for a No. 1 seed. And Kansas State is playing itself out of the tournament with road games against Baylor and Missouri upcoming.

K-State just can’t score consistently enough to be a real threat. It will be interesting to see the players Frank Martin brings in for next season because the Wildcats need an infusion of scorers. Interesting times for K-State basketball.

* North junior guard Conner Frankamp has made 139 of 151 free-throw attempts this season, just a touch over 92 percent. The most impressive thing is his free-throw percentage, obviously. The second most impressive thing is the number of times Frankamp has gotten to the free throw line in North’s 16 games.

* Frankamp scored 41 points Tuesday night against Southeast and made all 14 of his free throws. I wasn’t at the game, but I read that he had a technical foul late in the first quarter. Not knowing the particulars, I would advise Frankamp to be careful with his court demeanor. I think this kid a terrific player and I wouldn’t even try to put a ceiling on what he can accomplish in basketball. But it’s important for Frankamp, I believe, to stay on an emotional even keel as a player, even though opposing teams are going to try to throw him off. That might have been what happened at Southeast last night. If you are aware of the details, please share them with me. I just know that Frankamp’s reputation as a player is sterling. That reputation is a prize and I don’t want anything to happen that would threaten it.

* Congratulations to the Heights boys team for winning its 60th consecutive game, a state record, Tuesday night against Bishop Carroll. I saw the first half of the Falcons’ blowout win over Northwest last Friday and was blown away by the physical development in Perry Ellis just since the beginning of the season. Ellis has become a specimen and the Grizzlies’ players who attempted to defend him were rag dolls by comparison. I don’t intend that as a slap at Northwest. It’s just that Ellis is transforming before our eyes.

* I don’t expect Wichita State to have much of a problem with Missouri State tonight at Koch Arena. The Bears are a capable team. But the Shockers are playing at a high level and have a chance to clinch at least a tie of the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season championship with a win. WSU wants to win this thing outright. And a win tonight would all but assure the Shockers of a rare Valley title, which would be only their sixth in 67 years as an MVC member. And it would be only Wichita State’s second since 1983; the Shockers won the Valley championship in 2005-06 and went on to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

* How far can this WSU team advance? I think it’s reasonable to think the Shockers could reach another Sweet 16. Anything after that is gravy. Wichita State is getting some national press this week, finally, but I don’t think it will affect this veteran team. I think they’ll believe it’s about time somebody nationally started paying attention to the Shockers.

* Jeremy Lin. What can I say that hasn’t been said? So I’ll just say that I look forward to watching him play as much as I can. No, Lin’s emergence for the Knicks hasn’t caused me to purchase the NBA television package on DirecTV, which is my choice for television. But I was disappointed Tuesday night that I couldn’t watch Lin, who made a three-pointer at the buzzer to beat the Toronto Raptors. I have Lin-sanity, just like everyone else. But I’m not that interested in hearing about it 24/7. Much more interested in watching it.

* I received some nice comments about the story I wrote for Tuesday’s paper about Bill and Janet Himebaugh. I’m glad that story was so well-received because I have known the Himebaughs for years and value them greatly. I thought it would make for a good Valentine’s love story. Bill, who coached at South from 1971-80 and won three state championships, knows everybody in town, I think. He can’t go anywhere without being recognized, even more than 30 years since he last coached a game. But he is known for so much more than just basketball. He’s such a wonderful guy.

* I love and appreciate writing columns. Because, as you probably know, I’m an opinionated guy. To the point of being boorish at times, I know. And for that, I apologize. But writing a story like the one that appeared in Tuesday’s paper about the Himebaughs is still one of my favorite things.

* I’m going to write another love story for next Valentine’s Day. Ideas are welcome.

 

More City League top 50

I’ll let this go soon, I promise.

But I started playing around with the City League boys top 50 list I produced on the blog last week (remember, just one man’s opinion) and decided to have just a little more fun.

So I broke down the top 20 into two teams. The first team is made up of the top five (Ricky Ross, Darnell Valentine, Perry Ellis, Antoine Carr and Greg Dreiling) along with the reserves from the Nos. 16-20 slots: Val Barnes, Mike Hollimon, Steve Woodberry, Johnny Murdock and Riney Lochmann.

The second team includes the players I ranked from 6-10: Aubrey Sherrod, Conner Frankamp, Adrian Griffin, Taj Gray and Randy Canfield. Joining them are the five players who ranked from 11-15 on my list: Korleone Young, Jamie Thompson, Warren Hollins, Kelly Pete and Gaylor Nickerson.

You see where I’m going with this?

How would Team 1 do against Team 2 in a 10-game series?

Clearly, only my imagination can make this work. But it’s interesting how it sorted out. Team 1′s starters include a center (Dreiling), a power forward (Carr or Ellis), a small forward (Carr or Ellis), a shooting guard (Ross) and a point guard (Valentine).

Team 2′s starters match up perfectly, at least position-wise. There’s a center (Canfield), a power forward (Gray), a small forward (Griffin), a shooting guard (Sherrod) and a point guard (Frankamp).

I would give a slight edge to Team 2′s bench, but Team 1 looks to have a better starting five. Yeah, well, there are four McDonald’s All-Americans in that starting group and another player, Valentine, who would have been had he not graduated in 1977, a year before the first McDonald’s All-America team was chosen.

Valentine vs. Frankamp might be the most intriguing player match-up in my fictitious game. Valentine was able to overpower opponents defensively during his career at Heights. He was a stronger player than Frankamp, but Valentine didn’t become as dominant a player until his senior season.

Remember, Frankamp is only a junior. And he’s already a better offensive player than Valentine, who was not a great shooter at Heights but was able to score a lot because of his great defense and ability to turn steals and other turnovers into lay-ups. Understanding that Frankamp is a work in progress, I’ll give an edge in this matchup to Valentine.

The Ross-Sherrod battle at shooting guard is epic. These are two of the finest scorers in City League history. Ross was a better ball-handler and defender, but Sherrod could fill it up. We actually saw this match-up for a season in the City League, when Ross was a senior in 1978-79 and Sherrod was a sophomore. But the two years difference made it an unfair fight. Give Ross an edge in my fantasy game.

The small forwards would be Ellis vs. Griffin. That’s another intriguing battle. Ellis is the better athlete but Griffin had some of the best instincts ever for a City League basketball player. He knew how to position his body as a rebounder and as a scorer. Ellis, meanwhile, is really taking off as a player this season. I saw him Friday night against Northwest and it wasn’t close. Ellis is becoming a man right before our eyes and it’s going to be difficult to keep him – and Heights – from winning a fourth consecutive Class 6A state championship. Edge to Ellis, but not a big one.

At power forward, Carr goes against Gray. This is another interesting match-up, but Carr gets the edge, even though he wasn’t a true power forward at Heights. He liked to roam the floor and for good reason. His athletic ability allowed him to play as well from the perimeter as he did from the paint. Gray, too, could roam, and he was a better rebounder than Carr in high school. Overall, though, Carr gets the nod here. Easily.

Now for the big guys, Dreiling and Canfield. The 7-foot-1 Dreiling has a four-inch edge over Canfield, a standout at Southeast during the late 1960s and one of the first of his kind in City League history. Dreiling and Canfield had similar skills, but Dreiling had a bigger helping. So he gets the edge, giving Team 1 a sweep. Makes sense, since I picked the Team 1 guys as the five best City Leaguer’s I’ve seen.

Does Team 2′s bench make enough of a difference to even up these games? Maybe. I really like that Team 2 bench.

But if through some time machine miracle we were able to see 10 games between these teams, I think Team 1 would win eight. Maybe nine. They would be entertaining, though.