Monthly Archives: January 2013

Snyder stays on the job

Sean Snyder, Bill’s son, might be 78 by the time his father decides it’s time to stop coaching football at Kansas State.

I wouldn’t say my jaw dropped at the news today that Bill Snyder, all 73 years of him, signed a new

Bill Snyder.

five-year, $14.75 million contract that could keep him at Kansas State through the 2017 season, possibly longer.

But the five years was a mild surprise, giving Snyder’s age.

You know who has to feel good about this, don’t you? Even better, perhaps, than Bill?

It’s Kansas State athletic director John Currie, who can stop worrying about having to hire “the guy after Bill,” at least for a few years.

Remember the last time K-State hired “the guy after Bill?” Sure you do, and it was a mess. Ron Prince, bless his heart, just wasn’t cut out of the same cloth as the miracle worker/savior/savant/soothsayer – well, you could go on and on with slashes/adjectives, but you get the point.

Snyder is K-State football and nobody,  no matter what they say, feels entirely sure of the level to which the Wildcats will play once Snyder someday decides he’s had enough.

He decided that once before, you know, after the 2005 season. K-State was coming off a 5-6 season, after being 4-7 in 2004, and it looked like the 66-year-old Snyder – or as they called him back then, “Whippersnapper,” was at the end of the line.

He wasn’t. After the failed experiment with Prince, he was coaxed into returning to the sideline and has steadily built K-State back to being one of the elite teams in college football.

I gave up a long time ago trying to figure out how Snyder does it. Nobody thought there was a coach alive who could win college football games in Manhattan. Nobody was even that enthused about the hiring of Snyder, a nondescript assistant at Iowa, back in 1988.

But Snyder did the unthinkable. He made K-State into a consistent winner. And in so doing, he has become the most important, and comforting, security blanket in the world that doesn’t belong to Linus. K-Staters are breathing easier today because Snyder will be around for a few more years.

Those same Wildcat fans were restless after Snyder assistant coaches Joe Bob Clements (Oklahoma State) and Michael Smith (Arkansas), both of whom played for Snyder at Kansas State, recently took new jobs. Why were they leaving? What did they know? Are they getting out of town in front of Snyder’s second retirement?

Today’s contract announcement has no doubt calmed many nerves. Temporarily.

I’m 80 percent sure that Snyder isn’t getting any younger, although with him there is some evidence that he has been able to turn back time. There will come a day when Currie and K-State president Kirk Schulz, or whomever is in those positions when the day arrives, will have to hire a new football coach.

Snyder has endorsed his son, Sean, while also saying that he hopes his son doesn’t get the job because of its difficulties. I believe Snyder believes he is one of only two coaches in the country who understands the complexities of coaching football at Kansas State, and that he believes Sean is the other.

That whole situation has the potential of devolving into a quagmire, but for now it can be avoided. Snyder is staying. There is peace in Manhattan.

 

Memories of a sports writer

In 1980, the sports editor of the paper at the time, Bruce Opheim, promoted me from writing about high school sports, which I had done for more than five years, to covering Wichita State sports.

It was a dream come true. I grew up a huge Shocker fan, never dreaming that I would one day be on the WSU beat. And it was a pretty good time to cover the Shockers. They had a decent football team and better-than-decent men’s basketball and baseball teams, with the likes of Antoine Carr, Cliff Levingston, Randy Smithson, Joe Carter and Phil Stephenson.

I was 25 at the time and, as it turns out, a little out of my league. I lasted only two seasons on the Shocker beat before the same guy who promoted me decided to demote me to the desk.

The desk!!!

Now, let me be the first to say that some of the finest journalists I have ever been around have worked the desk. But it wasn’t for me. I was devastated at losing the Shocker beat, which happened because I had been behind the “Kansas City Star” on a major NCAA infractions story. Never mind that our sports editor had been behind on that story, too.

I felt like a failure. I questioned my ability as a journalist. I wondered if I had a future in the business and doubted I would ever get a chance to cover a college beat again.

And, remember, I had been banished to the desk, where my job was editing stories, writing headlines and cutlines and, once in a while, laying out pages.

Some journalists flourish on the desk. They just have a knack for it and it fits their personalities. A good “desk man,” as we called them in the day, was worth a lot.

I wasn’t a good desk man. My heart was in writing, but I had been shamed. I remember crying like a baby in the third-floor stairwell at The Eagle shortly after getting the news while my buddy, John Murphy, tried to console me.

The only good thing about being on the desk was getting to work with Murphy and some other guys I really liked, including the one and only Gary Karr. I didn’t necessarily like the work all the time, but I enjoyed the guys I got to work with.

And over time, I became myself again. I had a strong personality clash with Opheim, though, and eventually requested to be moved out of sports in the fall of 1984 and into a section we had at the time called “Neighbors,” which devoted its coverage to zones. I started out in what I remember was the “C” zone, which was south Wichita. I wrote stories about almost everything you can imagine, from park board meetings to hamburger stands to guys who flew model airplanes.

Being in “Neighbors” was probably the best thing to happen to me in my journalism career, to that point. I had a great editor, Barry Holtzclaw, who was excited to have me. He helped me grow as a writer and, most importantly, as a reporter. I got all kinds of story assignments and before long I was impressing my new editors with the diversity of subjects of which I could write about. I threw myself into the challenge of learning new things.

My best moment in “Neighbors” was working on a series of stories about Wichita public school dropouts. It was my idea and it involved the kind of in-depth reporting I hadn’t done much of. It took weeks of work, but it was that series that really convinced me my mojo was back.

So what happened then?

I was moved to the news side in 1986 to cover the police beat. At first, I was excited about the possibility. But after a few months, I was miserable. My editor was new and not really engaged. I was productive, I suppose, but not passionate about the work I was doing. I kept hoping that eventually I could get back to sports. But I wasn’t holding my breath.

In the early part of 1987, after I had been covering the cops for about eight months, The Eagle decided it was going to produce a high school sports tabloid starting in the fall called “Score,” which would be distributed to our state readers each week. It didn’t circulate in Wichita, which was a bummer. But we had a strong presence in the state at the time and our readers fell in love with the product.

It required a lot of work. In fact, in all of my years at the newspaper, I have never worked harder. We had standing features, statistics, standings and a weekly cover story, which I often produced. There were a lot of people who contributed much to “Score,” including Duane Frazier and a couple of guys who are still at the paper, sports editor Kirk Seminoff and assistant sports editor Tom Seals.

I was fortunate that “Score” came along when it did and that the Eagle’s editor at the time, Buzz Merritt, allowed me to return to sports and work on that publication. I believe “Score” lasted for three or four years. Besides doing the tabloid, we also produced high school coverage for the city and the area, so there wasn’t much down time. But I was sad when “Score” was discontinued. For those of us who worked on it, I think I’m safe in saying it provided us with a lot of good memories.

Next week, I’ll pick up my career story after the dissolution of “Score.” The ride was just beginning.

 

Self answers the WSU question

A big Wichita thank you toESPN college basketball writer Andy Katz, who as part of an interesting Q&A session with Kansas basketball coach Bill Self asked the question that Wichita State basketball fans have asked a million times.

Why won’t KU play Wichita State?

KU basketball coach Bill Self has never shown any inclination to schedule games against Wichita State.

I’ve asked Self this same question a few times, and always received the same answer. It’s generally the answer he gave to Katz. There is no big news to be broken here.

What’s different, though, is that a national basketball writer, one who is well known and respected, has asked the question. It’s not just me, some schlub in Wichita, whose voice doesn’t carry to Lawrence, or even much past the intersection of 53rd and Woodlawn.

Kansas exists in a vacuum. The Jayhawks’ most important media market is Kansas City, and none of the television, radio or newspaper guys there gives three hoots whether KU plays Wichita State. So Self and the KU administration is free to go about their business without concern about what’s going on in Wichita.

Before we get any deeper into the blog, I wanted to print Self’s reaction to Katz’s question. So here it is:

“Kansas hasn’t played Wichita State for years, way before I was the coach at Kansas. … Iowa plays Northern Iowa because the state legislature says you have to. If someone were to come and say something that it’s law, then we would have to. But you schedule to benefit your own school, not to benefit others. You have to benefit your own school. I want to play games that benefit us, and, from a financial standpoint, it’s hard to play games away from Allen Fieldhouse since that’s our main source of budget every year.”

I like Self. He’s one of the best guys in coaching. You ask him a question and he’ll give you an answer. And above everything else, I’m not sure there’s a better basketball coach in the world.

But on this issue, we strongly disagree. And he’s wrong about Iowa, whose legislature has never forced Northern Iowa, Drake, Iowa and Iowa State to play one another. They just do because it’s good for the state.

I do not understand how Self could say that playing Wichita State would not be beneficial to KU. Both are basketball schools and have been for decades. Nobody at WSU pretends that the Shockers have nearly the tradition of Kansas, but right now Wichita State is in a pretty good position to compete with the Jayhawks. A battle of wits between Self and WSU coach Gregg Marshall would be worth buying a ticket.

Historically, the Shockers haven’t always been capable of holding their own with KU. In fact, in the last five games between the two, played from 1989-93, the Jayhawks won all of them by an average margin of 32 points.

The teams have met 14 times, with KU holding a 12-2 edge. WSU won a 1989 game at Levitt Arena, 54-49, and beat the Jayhawks in a Sweet 16 game of the 1981 NCAA Tournament in New Orleans, 66-65.

It’s been nearly 20 years now since the two met and that’s ridiculous. Any reason given by Self of those associated with KU sounds ridiculous. (The same holds true for Kansas State, by the way, in case you think I’m giving the Wildcats a pass.)

I have long proposed a three-game series between Wichita State and Kansas that would look like this: One game at Wichita’s Intrust Bank Arena, one game at Allen Fieldhouse and one game at the Sprint Center in Kansas City).

KU would have a strong fan base at all three venues. And it’s impossible for me to believe that the series wouldn’t make great financial sense for both schools.

Self believes there’s nothing to be gained by playing Wichita State and everything to lose. I don’t buy it. Wichita State has a basketball program worthy of respect and has been a strong player for most of the past 12 years. The Shockers will never be a threat to KU’s basketball heritage. But if the Jayhawks were to lose a game to WSU, it wouldn’t signify the end of college basketball as we know it. KU fans wouldn’t call for Self’s head. There wouldn’t be a cancellation of season tickets.

A KU-WSU series simply would be good for the state’s basketball fans, of which there are many. But too often, I feel like a quiet voice in the woods as I make my plea. Thanks to Katz for giving this issue a louder voice. I’m sure Self didn’t like the question, but it’s one that needs to be asked until the day KU and WSU sign a contract to play basketball.

 

Shockers vs. Miami (Fla.) – who is better?

I have spent the better part of the afternoonexamining the differences in the basketball teams at Miami (Fla.) and Wichita State, since they’re now neck and neck in the latest college hoops rankings.

The Shockers are No. 15 in the Associated Press poll, one spot behind the Hurricanes. In the USA

Jim Larranaga led George Mason to a couple of big wins over Wichita State when he coached the Patriots. Now he’s in his second year at Miami (Fla.), which is neck-and-neck with the Shockers in college basketball’s rankings.

Today coaches poll, the teams are flip-flopped: Wichita State is No. 15 and Miami is No. 16.

It has been my intent today to attempt to find the better of the two teams. And after some exhaustive research, broken up only by a trip to a convenience store from some Skittles, I have come to a conclusion.

First, the records: The Shockers are 19-2, tied for the most wins in the country. Miami is 15-3. Based only on the records, WSU has an edge, slight as it is.

Miami lost a game early this season to Florida Gulf Coast. It is never a good idea to lose to a team with more than two words in its name, without one of those words being “State.” The Hurricane’s other losses are to Arizona, currently ranked No. 8, and to Indiana State, which happens to be Wichita State’s opponent on Tuesday night at Koch Arena.

The Sycamores upset Miami, 57-55, in overtime on Christmas day in a tournament in Florida, where they also upended No. 16 Mississippi.

Miami is riding a seven-game winning streak, which has included recent blowout wins over ACC rivals Duke (90-63) and Florida State (71-47). The win over Duke was especially impressive, considering the Blue Devils were No. 1 at the time. Clearly, Miami is on a roll, having jumped from No. 25 to No. 14 in the AP poll.

Wichita State moved up five spots after a topsy-turvy week of college basketball, from 20th to No. 15 in the AP.

But the coaches, remember, have the Shockers one spot ahead of Miami.

Which poll is right?

I’m going with the AP poll.

This morning, when I went through all of his quickly, I thought Wichita State would move up to at least 14th in the AP poll and potentially as high as No. 12. But I forgot to factor in not only the hot streak that Miami is riding, but also the quality of its non-conference schedule.

The website realtimerpi.com, which is the one I go to most often, has Miami at No. 3, with a strength of schedule that ranks No. 1 in the country.

The Hurricanes not only played Arizona (No. 4 RPI), Florida Gulf Coast (117) and Indiana State (50) in non-conference games, but also Michigan State (12), La Salle (26), UMass (53), Charlotte (54), Detroit (86), Central Florida (104), Stetson (222), Hawaii (230) and Jacksonville (235).

Miami’s 12 non-conference opponents currently have an average RPI of 99.4. They are 60-30 so far in conference play and 162-79 overall.

Wichita State ranks No. 18 in the RPI, with a non-conference stretch of schedule that ranks No. 85. The Shockers clearly have gotten a lot of juice from wins over Creighton, VCU and Southern Mississippi, all Top 40 RPI teams.

But it’s hard to make a case for Wichita State being better than Miami, which has beaten the likes of Duke, Michigan State, North Carolina and Florida State and has an interesting ACC match-up coming up Saturday at North Carolina State.

The average RPI of the 12 schools on WSU’s non-conference schedule is 154.8, thanks to some regrettable scheduling that brought the likes of Western Carolina (293), Northern Colorado (315) and Howard (324) to Koch Arena.

It’s time for the Shockers to move beyond such games. Those RPI hits probably won’t cost Wichita State a spot in the NCAA Tournament this season because the Shockers have played well against the better RPI teams on their schedule. But there is nothing to gain from playing such poor teams.

According to the RPIs at ESPN.com, the strength of schedule for Wichita State’s opponents ranks 107th nationally. The Shockers have not played against a top 25 RPI team this season, but are 3-0 against the top 50, 6-1 against the top 100 and 8-2 against the top 150. WSU, though, has played 11 games against teams ranked below 150 in the RPI. To the Shockers credit, they have won them all.

Miami, meanwhile, has a more impressive RPI resume. The Hurricanes’ opponents rank No. 36 in strength of schedule. Miami is 2-1 against the RPI top 25, 5-1 against the top 50, 9-2 against the top 100 and 12-3 against the top 150, with only three games against teams ranked below 150.

Based on the numbers, it looks to me like the AP has it right by ranking Miami a spot ahead of Wichita State. In fact, I think the Hurricanes probably belong four or five spots higher, based on all of the RPI numbers that seem to mean so much when it comes time to seeding the NCAA Tournament.

 

Friday musings

* Mario Chalmers was the MVP of a Final Four, made arguably the biggest shot in KU basketball history (although I don’t know of anyone who wants to argue it), was a key player on a national championship team and is in the midst of a solid NBA career. That’s a solid body of work and his uniform number belongs in the rafters at Allen Fieldhouse.

* It was heartening than during a week that included Lance Armstrong’s repentance and Manti Teo’s whatever-that-was, “Sports Illustrated” chose to go with a cover of Stan Musial, who died Sunday, to accompany a well-written piece by Richard Hoffer. SI, of course, did have a story on the Armstrong and Te’o escapades, but the mag resisted the urge to put those clowns on the cover. Well done, SI.

* It’s taken a bit, but I’m warming to the new panel of judges on “American Idol.” I can’t decide who is my favorite, Nicki Minaj or Keith Urban. For now, I’ll call it a tie. I catch a lot of grief for my love of this show, which I’ve never understood. It’s a singing competition and some of the back stories on the participants are inspirational. I don’t miss an episode.

* “Justified” is the best show on television. Period. Exclamation point? Not a question mark? No. Boyd Crowder, as played by Walton Goggins, is one scary dude.

* A new documentary on my favorite band, the Eagles, will debut on Showtime coming up Feb. 15 and 16. Two hours of the doc will show on the first night, covering the band from its formation until its break-up in 1980. The second part, just an hour long, will detail the band’s revival in 1994. The Eagles are planning a “History of the Eagles” tour starting in June. Exciting times.

* My son, Jeff, wrote the wonderful obituary for his mother, Marilyn King (LeVan) that appeared in The Eagle this morning. It was a tribute more than an obituary. Thanks to everyone who has reached out to Jeff during his mother’s illness and in the aftermath of her passing. It has meant a lot to him.

* This is one of my favorite Wichita State basketball teams, and that goes against the grain. I normally like teams that score and that have scorers. I love shooters and guys who can create offense. The Shockers are limited in their offensive ability, although Cleanthony Early is a big-time scorer. This team, though, hooks me with its toughness, defense and perseverance.

* Perry Ellis had some good moments for Kansas the other night during its 59-55 win over Kansas State. The Jayhawks’ game against Oklahoma on Saturday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse is an important one for Ellis. He needs to build on his performance against the Wildcats. I think Ellis is a big key for KU the rest of the way. Kansas lacks depth and Ellis could go a long way in relieving that issue.

* People always ask me how much I think North senior Conner Frankamp will play for Kansas as a freshman. A lot. He’ll play a bunch because of how young and inexperienced the Jayhawks will be in 2013-14. And I don’t expect Frankamp to have the growing pains Ellis has endured during his freshman season. They’re two different players with completely different personalities. Frankamp has a little attitude in his game, which isn’t a bad thing. He’s good and he knows it. Ellis is good, but he’s a bit reluctant to believe in himself. That’s the biggest difference.

* I am the least handy man to ever live. It’s embarrassing and I don’t want to talk about it. So forget I wrote anything here, please.

* Does something ever get so weird that you just want to cover your eyes and ears and pretend it’s not happening? That’s how I feel about this Manti Te’o story and the weirdos involved. And although I guess I don’t hold Te’o responsible, the guy has to be clueless.

* Rob Ryan is the defensive coordinator for my St. Louis Rams. You have no idea how difficult it was to write that sentence. I nearly gagged doing so. But a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, so I guess I’m sticking with the Rams out of my admiration for Jeff Fisher. But this is a blow, Jeff. This one hurt.

* I’m going to watch my six-year-old granddaughter, Airyn, during her swim lessons next Thursday night. That’s exciting for me. I’m a grandpa now, you know.

* The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers each have two starters in the NBA All-Star game? Has anybody looked at the records of those teams? Ridiculous. Get me to the playoffs, please.

* Have the Atlanta Braves markedly improved themselves by adding B.J. and Justin Upton to their outfield to replace Martin Prado and Michael Bourn? Probably some, but not as much as you’d hope in giving up as many good prospects as Atlanta had to relinquish to Arizona in the Justin Upton deal. That said, this is going to be a heck of an athletic outfield with the Upton brothers manning left and center and Jason Heyward in right.

* Spring training is so close I can almost taste it.

* I’m going to be for Baltimore in the Super Bowl. Not that I like the Ravens that much, but I do like their coach, John Harbaugh. I can do without his brother, Jim, who is coaching the San Francisco 49ers. It comes down to a brother preference for me.

* I love just about everything about this Super Bowl, except for the teams. Yes, I’m strange that way. The quarterback match-up is so good with Baltimore’s Joe Flacco going head to head with the Niners’ Colin Kaepernick. Both have been sensational so far in the playoffs. I’m going to give a slight edge to Flacco, although I believe it’s entirely possible Kaepernick steals the show.

* There are some Super Bowls that I want to watch and some that I just want to glance at during a party. This is one I want to watch. So be quiet everyone, please.

* Kansas State has a tough one Saturday at Iowa State. I picked the Cyclones to win on radio this morning. If the Wildcats can get this one, I think it puts them in the driver’s seat to finish second in the Big 12.

* I’m speaking to the Bel Aire Senior Club on Monday evening. I might also join.

* Thanks for reading. Have a wonderful, exciting weekend. I’ve got a story coming Sunday on Derby’s Steve Stelljes, who will be the head linesman for the Super Bowl. I used to officiate kid’s basketball games with Stelljes many years ago and we grew up just about two blocks from one another. It’s a great honor, and a recognition of his abilities, that he’s gotten this assignment.

 

Memories of a sports writer

I’m a day late with this,but it’s been a difficult week. My son’s mother, Marilyn King, passed away early Wednesday morning. I wrote about her last week and I have been so impressed with how my son, Jeff, has been such a rock during this painful process.

Anyway, Marilyn was someone who enjoyed sports. And so does my wife of just more than two years, Debbie, who intrigued me with an e-mail she sent about her grandfather, who played professional baseball in Kansas City back at the turn of the century. The 20th century, not the 21st.

Before I met Debbie, she said, she spent most of her television hours on two networks: HGTV and the NFL Network. We owe our relationship to our mutual admiration of Kurt Warner (she admires him even more than I do, which is a slight issue in our relationship.) My discussion of Warner on radio one day led to an e-mail exchange and, ultimately, a lunch date at the River City Brewery. We hit it off, in no small part because of Debbie’s enthusiasm for sports.

She loves the NFL and has grown to appreciate college football. She said she hadn’t watched a lot of basketball before we met, but is now in tune with KU, K-State and Wichita State. And, best of all, she has become a big fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. And it’s not just because I chain her to her chair during every spring and summer night and force her to watch the Cardinals.

I don’t really do that and if I did I wouldn’t admit it.

It was great a few weeks back when The Eagle highlighted Debbie, who is a stalwart for the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization, in the business section. The best part for me was her public admission, via written word, that one of the things she enjoys most in life is watching the Cardinals.

We’ve only been to St. Louis to see the Cardinals once. That will change this season, I promise. She has her favorite players and has gotten to know something about the team’s history and traditions. She knows, for instance, that Jack Buck is the greatest baseball play-by-play announcer in the history of the game.

That Cardinals connection is rewarding. It’s one of our many common bonds. I wasn’t sure whether I would like watching the Cardinals play with my wife every night. I wondered whether the emotions of the game would make it uncomfortable.

Now I wouldn’t know what to do if Debbie wasn’t in our love seat with me on the nights the Cardinals play. Yes, we sit in a love seat. Want to make something of it?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Marilyn lately, but also about my marriage to Debbie. It’s been a life saver for me and I’m so glad we found one another. Sometimes I get sad because we didn’t come together until relatively late in life (she hates it when I say I’m old). But this is the way it was meant to happen and I’m at the stage of my life where I will be able to cherish our time together. In other words, I’m mature. Can you believe it? I’m MATURE. Or sort of, at least.

 

KU-KSU: This could be ugly

Third-ranked Kansas and No. 11 Kansas State meet Tuesday night at Bramlage Coliseum. So why doesn’t this feel like a bigger game?

The rankings say this is huge.

First-year Kansas State basketball coach Bruce Weber is preaching defense. And his team is listening. Tonight’s battle with Kansas at Bramlage Coliseum should be all about defense.

But if you’ve watched the Jayhawks and Wildcats kind of muddle through the season so far, the expectations are that this is going to be a sluggish, low-scoring, ugly game that will harm the senses.

There are nights when K-State can’t throw it in the ocean and nights when Kansas looks like it would be better off playing on unicycles.

KU has really been fighting it lately, needing overtime to dispatch Iowa State at Allen Fieldhouse and looking out of sorts during road wins at Texas Tech and Texas. In the middle of all that, though, was an efficient and one-sided win over Baylor, 61-44, in Lawrence.

But even in that one, KU struggled to score. The Jayhawks are still averaging 76 points per game, but lately it’s been a fight to break into the 70s.

Kansas State, meanwhile, has fought to score from the opening tip of the season. The second best shooter at Kansas State might be one of the students currently in the chem lab because outside of senior Rodney McGruder, the Wildcats don’t have much instant offense.

What both of these teams have, though, is the heart and desire to play defense.

Kansas State ranks 16th nationally in giving up 57.3 points per game. That’s the lowest number of points allowed by a K-State team since 1950-51, when the Jack Gardner-led Wildcats allowed 53.3 points per game.

Kansas, which hasn’t been able to get out of the 60s in four of its past five games, won’t have any easier time tonight against K-State.

But will the Wildcats break 50?

It’s a legitimate question, considering Kansas ranks No. 2 nationally in field-goal defense, allowing opponents to shoot a paltry 34.8 percent from the floor. That’s the best defense a KU team has played since 1957-58. And this from a Kansas team that, in Bill Self’s 10 seasons, has never allowed opponents to shoot better than 39.4 percent for a season.

That’s a remarkable statistic and one that does not bode well tonight for Kansas State, which is scoring at its lowest rate in seven seasons.

Both KU-KSU games last season were methodical and low-scoring. Kansas won both – 67-49 at Allen Fieldhouse and 59-53 at K-State. It’s likely we’ll see more of the same tonight as these two teams slug it out with a last-man-standing attitude.

If there is a decided edge for either of these teams, it belongs to Kansas and free-throw shooting.

The Jayhawks rank 22nd nationally, shooting 74.9 percent from the line. K-State, meanwhile, is shooting a full 10 percentage points less from the line and ranks 281st in the country.

To the Wildcats’ credit, they’ve been finding ways to win. And it mostly involves outstanding defense and some timely offense led by McGruder, who is having an outstanding senior season.

It’s hard to know what to expect Tuesday night, except that what we’ll see probably won’t be pretty.

The fascination of the first Big 12 meeting between Self and the coach who replaced him at Illinois, Bruce Weber, takes a back seat to the intrigue of a game between highly-ranked teams that don’t always play like highly-ranked teams.

Kansas and Kansas State are good basketball team, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that they’re not good in the traditional sense. Neither team has many scorers, but they’re loaded with tough, defense-first players who don’t mind getting dirty.

With that in mind, I’m picking Kansas to win on the road, 58-54. It’s going to be that kind of game.

 

 

Friday musings

* Enough Manti Te’o. Enough Lance Armstrong. Get me back to the games, which are the reason I’m a sports fan in the first place.

* Either Te’o is a gullible nitwit or a dirty, rotten scoundrel. I supposed I’d go for what’s behind Door No. 1, but the choices aren’t great.

* Can’t wait for the Creighton-Wichita State game on Saturday afternoon at Koch Arena. This is the first home game of the season that’s carried anything near this kind of excitement. Do the Shockers have a chance? Of course. Any team that plays defense the way WSU does has a chance. But Creighton’s offense is special. Wichita State is a tough, gritty team. But I think the Bluejays eek out a four- or five-point victory.

* Creighton junior forward Doug McDermott is the best Missouri Valley Conference play since . . . ? I’ll go with Hersey Hawkins, who played for Bradley in the late-1980s. Kind of a no-brainer, really.

* Love both of the NFL match-ups this weekend, especially the NFC championship game between Atlanta and San Francisco. If Colin Kaepernick plays like he did last week against Green Bay, there’s no reason for the Falcons to even go on the field at the Georgia Dome. But something tells me Atlanta will have a better plan to at least slow down Kaepernick than did the Packers. I’m not saying the Falcons’ defense is the 1985 Bears, but it has to be better than what the Pack showed last week. Doesn’t it?  And I think the Falcons’ offense will score. So I’m picking Atlanta, 31-28, although without a ton of confidence.

* In the AFC, how can anyone pick against the New England Patriots? Yes, many are. They are caught up in what has been an impressive Ravens run through the playoffs. But how many of those same people wrote off Baltimore as it stumbled during the end of the regular season? Be honest now. And the Ravens were simply lucky to oust Denver in overtime last weekend. I just don’t see Baltimore being able to handle the Pats’ offense inside Gillette Stadium. Tom Brady is hot. And when he gets hot, he usually stays hot for a long time. New England 30, Baltimore 17.

* I have seen five of the nine Oscar-nominated movies. My favorites, in order: 1) Zero Dark Thirty; 2) Lincoln; 3) Silver Linings Playbook; 4) Argo; 5) Life of Pi. I enjoyed them all and plan to add Les Miserables and Beasts of the Southern Wild this weekend.

* Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were great as hosts of the Golden Globes last weekend. G-R-E-A-T. I laughed so hard I cried at their opening segment, and they were just as funny during their bits throughout the show. Will Ferrell and Kristin Wiig were also hilarious as presenters, a bit you can see here. Take a look at Tommy Lee Jones’ reaction to their comedy. Priceless. The Globes are the best, even though I’d have to think hard before being able to remember any of the winners. It’s about the schtick.

* If you’re not watching Parks and Recreation on NBC on Thursday nights, you should be. Great comedy ensemble cast.

* Oprah Winfrey showed me something Thursday night during Part I of her interview with Lance Armstrong on her OWN network. She was prepared and was never thrown off of her game. Her questions were fair, but tough. She didn’t back down or patronize, but she was also cordial. It was impressive and I suppose we really shouldn’t be surprised. She is, after all, Oprah.

* I love the Gonzaga-Butler college basketball match-up Saturday night on ESPN.

* On radio this morning, I threw it out there that Butler’s Brad Stevens is the best coach in college basketball. OK, that’s perhaps a little off the wall. But not much. I think Stevens belongs in anybody’s top 10. I’m sure Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski would get the top spot on most people’s list, but Kansas’ Bill Self has to be in the top three.

* Let’s take a quick run at a Top 10 of current college basketball coaches. 1) Krzyzewski; 2) Self; 3) Jim Boeheim; 4) Rick Pitino; 5) Roy Williams; 6) Stevens; 7) Thad Matta; 8) Mark Few; 9) Billy Donovan; 10) Bo Ryan. (FYI, I did have VCU’s Shaka Smart on this list, but remembered I hadn’t included North Carolina’s Williams. No John Calipari? That’s right. It’s my list and despite his success, I don’t want to include him. A personal thing. Just missing: Marquette’s Buzz Williams, San Diego State’s Steve Fisher and Minnesota’s Tubby Smith.

* Al Pacino is going to play Joe Paterno in “Happy Valley,” a film directed by Brian De Palma. Great casting, but is that a movie with mass appeal? Or is it a little too soon to be making a movie about Paterno?

* Who plays Lance Armstrong? Manti Te’o? The imaginary dead girlfriend?

* Let’s make a movie about Tim Duncan, can we? Has there even been a more under-appreciated superstar? Is it just because Duncan plans in San Antonio? Here’s a 36-year-old center, who has been around the league longer than Hubie Brown, averaging 17.2 points and 9.6 rebounds per game for a Spurs team that is in the hunt for another championship. Duncan is having his best season since 2009-10. He currently ranks 24th all-time in NBA history with 23,244 points and is No. 16 in rebounds, with 12,917.

* How much will senior Carl Hall contribute to the Shockers on Saturday afternoon against Creighton? Hall was active in the Shockers’ win over Illinois State on Wednesday night, grabbing 10 rebounds. But he scored only two points, both on free throws. It didn’t appear Hall was in game shape, nor did it appear his teammates were looking for him on the block the way they were before his hand injury. Hall is a big X factor in the game.

* Who guards Doug McDermott? It’ll likely be a combination of WSU defenders, with Tekele Cotton most likely getting the first shot. The Shockers have been somewhat effective in the past, at least slowing down McDermott. Toure Murry and Ben Smith took turns on him last season, but neither is around this time.

* Good to see the Wichita Thunder back in town after a couple of long road trips. The Thunder plays Tulsa tonight at Intrust Bank Arena.

* Wish I was in Park City, Utah, this weekend to see Part I of an Eagles documentary, showing at the Sundance Film Festival, that has been a couple of years in the making. It’s called “History of the Eagles, Part One,” and it’s supposedly a no-holds-barred look at the band its formation until 1980, when the Eagles broke up. Cannot wait to see this one. And cannot wait to see the Eagles in concert again. When it happens, it’ll be No. 27.

* Thanks for reading. Busy, fun weekend of sports ahead. Looking forward to it.

 

Truth be told – or not

Lance Armstrong is coming clean to Oprah Winfrey on television tonight, where he’ll finally admit what we’ve suspected, and what others have told us, for years.

Meanwhile, former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o had a fake girlfriend, one he either concocted or accepted without proof. Either way, he looks like a fool.

Ex-Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o.

Sometime soon another sports star will be exposed as a liar, cheat or buffoon. One incredulous story is followed up by one even more hard to fathom. Soon, we’ll discover that the 25 players on the field for the world championship San Francisco Giants in October were bused in from Mars.

The Internet, where sensationalism is the norm, holds us all as prisoners, just one dumb move away from being swept away in the undercurrent of disgrace and dishonor.

Te’o says he met his “girlfriend” online, and that they had a relationship for more than three years. But they never met in person and he didn’t attend her funeral after she “died” from leukemia. Nor did he even visit this “woman” in the hospital.

When it becomes necessary to use quote marks around more than one word in a paragraph, there’s usually a problem.

Te’o, who as I’m writing this has not come forward to explain his bizarre situation other than to issue a more-questions-than-answers statement Wednesday, needs to simply tell the truth. And nothing but the truth. If you haven’t read the “Deadspin” account of this bizarre story, it’s here. Although if you haven’t read it by now, you’re probably not interested.

People just need to tell the truth. It’s one of the Ten Commandments.

Think how much simpler life would be if people abstained from lying.

But we can’t, because we’re people. And when there’s something to protect, we lie. Faced with consequences, we lie some more. Soon the lies become the truth.

Te’o will have a tarnished image and has to accept that.

Ditto for Armstrong, who waited years to finally make his admission. And from what I’ve read about his interview with Oprah, Armstrong is not as repentant as you might expect him to be.

Human beings make mistakes, but too often cannot see their way out of them. So they make more mistakes by attempting to clean up the original errors.

You would think that people in the public eye would understand the inherent risks that accompany their positions. And if they don’t, why not?

In Armstrong’s case, we accept that most cyclists used steroids. We don’t condone it, necessarily, but we accept it to be fact. By telling us that he was the exception, and that all of his numerous Tour de France titles came about all because of his hard work and dedication, Armstrong created a web of deceit that a machete can’t cut through.

Our distrust of Armstrong should be so strong, in fact, that we treat what he says during his interview with Oprah with doubt and skepticism. Once a liar of this magnitude, always a liar. Perhaps that’s too harsh, and perhaps over time Armstrong can win some of us back. But I keep thinking about all of those people who stood by his side, who defended him with passion, and how they must feel now. I also keep thinking about how the fellow cyclists who cast doubt on Armstrong, or insisted that he had used steroids with them, are now vindicated, but at a heavy toll.

With Te’o, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Just more than a month after finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Te’o is a national punch line, and that’s sad. He might have a man’s body, but we also know that in this day and age, being 22 isn’t what it used to be.

The Teo story is definitely bizarre and difficult to comprehend. It’s interesting to me that so many people are saying they’re already sick of this story, as if to give it no legitimacy. Perhaps that’s because it is such a head scratcher, unlike anything we’ve ever seen or heard.

But how much longer will stories like this be out of the norm? People in all walks of life spend hours and hours per day on their computers or tablets, where deceit lurks. We have to be careful. Somebody, apparently, is out to get us.

This is the world in which we live. Good is struggling to keep its lead over bad.

 

 

 

Memories of a sports writer

In the fall of 1981,when I still young in the business, I took my girlfriend – soon to be my wife – to Skelly Stadium in Tulsa for a football game between Wichita State and the Golden Hurricane.

We were young and in love.

Marilyn King.

When I went down from the press box into the stands to find her an hour or so before the game, she had disappeared. I was worried. There were no cell phones in those days, so I couldn’t text her. I couldn’t call her.

Finally, I found Marilyn smoking a cigarette in the concourse. She had been trying to quit that bad habit, which she ultimately did. But her smoking in that instance led to a big fight. We had too many big fights and our marriage lasted only five years. We did have some glorious moments, though; none more glorious than the birth of our son, Jeff, on Dec. 21, 1982. It was a Tuesday night and I begged out of covering a high school basketball game.

Jeff was only 3 when we divorced. They say both husband and wife are culpable in a split and I do believe that. In this case, though, I’ll take 80 percent of the blame.

Marilyn would go on to find the love of her life, Greg, and they’re still married today. But times are difficult because she is dying from a rare form of cancer. She’s only 56.

My concern has been centered around Jeff, his half-sister Sarah and the rest of Marilyn’s family. But I also have thought a great deal about my former wife and our relationship in the year and a half since her diagnosis. Thankfully, Marilyn was able to make it back to Kansas in October for Jeff’s wedding. That’s a blessing.

She was beaten down by her brutal disease. Healthy, she would have been the life of that wedding weekend, chipping in to decorate and cook and do whatever else needed to be done. Marilyn was not a wallflower; she was one of the most outgoing, fun and intelligent people I have known.

A few years ago, long after our divorce, she was in Wichita visiting her husband’s family. She came to The Eagle’s newsroom to visit Jeff and ended up attending the afternoon news meeting, even making a few comments. The woman isn’t shy.

Jeff is as close to his mother as any son. She moved to Ohio in 1991, when her husband received a job promotion. Jeff stayed in Wichita with me, although he visited his mom on holidays and for a part of every summer, the part in which he wasn’t playing baseball. It was always so hard to put him on an airplane, but I was content in where he was going.

He spent his junior year of high school in Ohio. That’s the year, by the way, that his former school, North, played in the Class 6A state championship game in Lawrence. Jeff had been the team’s starting center fielder as a sophomore and missed out on the state tournament experience.

No regrets, though, because he was able to experience a full year living with his mom. He did return to Wichita the following year and graduated from North in 2001.

The process of raising a kid was a shared one. And I’m not telling parents anything they don’t already know when I say it’s not always easy.

Jeff, now 30, was always a great kid, but not always so devoted to the things I thought he should be devoted to.

I was the upright parent, I suppose. Marilyn was more relaxed. Perhaps that’s not a good way to put it. Perhaps she was just the most assured parent. She always knew Jeff would be fine and that he would ultimately become a good young man.

More than once, Marilyn had to talk me off the ledge during one of our phone conversations. Most of the time, we were civil to one another. But when it came to discussing our son, there were times when Ma Bell had to cover her ears.

It was always reassuring to me that Marilyn was such a good mother. I know it was hard for her to be far away, but she and Jeff talked every day.

When she was back for Jeff’s wedding, I was asked to say a little something during the ceremony. I’m not sure why, but I obliged. I thanked everyone who was there and I made special mention of Marilyn, who was wheelchair-bound and struggled to speak.

I praised her on being a wonderful mother and gave her most of the credit for making Jeff the fine man he is today. She took out a tissue and dabbed her eyes, which caused me to break down to the point that I had to stop speaking.

So many thoughts went through my mind on that day, and during the time since. I have regrets, but they are soothed in the knowledge that Marilyn went on to have a great marriage to Greg and that I finally found the woman I was meant to be with, Debbie.

Greg reached out to me on Facebook the other day to tell me what a help Jeff had been during his visit to Ohio last week, how he had comforted his mom during the scariest time of her life. He also mentioned that Marilyn held no grudges toward me about our past and was happy that I, too, had found marital bliss after a few tries. I really appreciated hearing that.

Debbie has given me the freedom to process the emotions I’m feeling as Marilyn struggles. That’s just the kind of woman Debbie is. Ironically, Debbie, then a student at Friends, was a worker at the day care center that Marilyn and I used for Jeff and Sarah back in the early-1980s. After we met and Debbie learned that Marilyn and I had been married, she had vivid memories of not only Marilyn, but of the two kids.

I hope for the best for Marilyn’s family. Her parents live near her in Ohio, as does her daughter and one of her two brothers. She is a dynamic person who has been robbed of her energy by a terrible disease that is neither fair nor understandable. But Marilyn’s spirit will live on.

Remembering our years together has made me laugh and it has made me cry. Godspeed, Marilyn. You’re one of a kind.