Daily Archives: Feb. 25, 2013

Monday Night Raw

No, not the wrestling show, although I hear the John Cena-C.M. Punk match was terrific tonight. I have it recorded.

I’m talking about the Kansas Jayhawks, who for the second week in a row took their fan base through an emotional mine field on the way to a 108-96 overtime win over Iowa State inside Hilton Coliseum that left nerves raw.

It was a game marred by some late-game officiating lapses, but highlighted – then low-lighted – by KU senior guard Elijah Johnson, who was spectacular with a 39-point performance while making every clutch play down the stretch. Take away his charging foul late in regulation that wasn’t called and the point-of-emphasis dunk in the final seconds that he later apologized for, and Johnson was almost perfect.

Kansas has regained its toughness in the past couple of Monday nights with overtime wins at Oklahoma State and Iowa State, two of the most difficult places to play in the Big 12. The Jayhawks were down and out Monday before Johnson took over the game. He made 13 of 22 shots, 6 of 10 three-pointers and all seven of his free throws including two to send the game into overtime. He had seven assists and five rebounds.

The most-maligned Kansas player of the season had a game for the ages.

Iowa State is different from almost every other college basketball team. The Cyclones aren’t quite to the Loyola-Marymount level from the 1990s under Paul Westhead, but ISU coach Fred Hoiberg employs a unique offensive style that is heavily reliant on three-point shots.

Just when you thought the Cyclones wouldn’t dare foist up more than 38 three-pointers, which is how many they put up during a 97-89 OT loss to the Jayhawks in Lawrence this season, they fired 41 three-points Monday night. And made a team-record 17.

It was an incredible display of shooting and one that would have buried most visitors.

KU, though, has regained its mental edge. It looked like Bill Self was on the verge of losing his team when the Jayhawks lost to a bad TCU team earlier this month. Instead, it looks more like Kansas has found something since that terrible defeat.

For one thing, the Jayhawks smell blood. Winning a ninth consecutive Big 12 championship is a big, big deal to Self and his team, and a loss to Iowa State would have put KU a game behind rival Kansas State with only three conference games remaining. The Jayhawks’ streak of Big 12 titles is going to end someday, but they sure don’t want it to be at the hands of K-State.

But let’s be real here. The officials were a pretty good sixth man for Kansas late. First, there was a reaching foul by Jeff Withey that was called against teammate Kevin Young. Now Young did a fantastic job of raising his hand immediately after the whistle, because a foul on Withey would have been his fifth. And referee Mark Whitehead went for Young’s guilty plea, which meant Withey got to stay in the game for the 23 seconds remaining in regulation and the first 3:29 of overtime, after which he finally did get called for his fifth foul.

And in the final five seconds of regulation, Johnson went like a bullet into the lane, hoping to get to the rim and score with KU trailing by two, 90-88. He crashed into Iowa State freshman Georges Niang, who looked to have good position. Nothing was called, though. But in a chase for the loose ball, Niang was called for a reaching foul and Johnson went to the line and made two clutch free throws.

Kansas was fortunate. And in overtime, the Jayhawks were able to seal the deal behind Johnson, who has been so bad at times this season that Self has considered cutting back his playing time. Only one problem – KU has such little depth in the backcourt that limiting Johnson’s minutes was never really an option.

Johnson played 37 fantastic minutes Monday night. Now Kansas, with home games remaining against West Virginia and Texas Tech and a road game to cap the regular season at Baylor, is in good shape for that ninth consecutive Big 12 championship. It’s one of the most amazing streaks in sports.

 

Mock brackets = mock reality

Why am I so enamored by all things mock? Mock drafts, mock brackets, mock trials. You name it and if it’s got mock in its name, I’m on board.

I’m in the habit now, of course, of checking all of the mock NCAA Tournament brackets to see where our Kansas teams fall in. These efforts in “bracketology,” a word coined, I believe, by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, are worth the paper they’re printed on. But they do sometimes give a good glimpse into potential seeding, although trying to predict who plays who is a guessing game.

I’m going to go over three of the mock NCAA brackets today and figure out the most advantageous scenario for Wichita State. The Shockers, although 24-5, are no higher than an 8 seed in the mocks I’m going with today. I’ll also address predictions regarding Kansas and Kansas State.

ESPN Bracketology (Joe Lunardi)

Lunardi has the Shockers as an 8 seed in the Midwest Regional with a second-round game against Oklahoma in Dayton. If the Shockers take care of the Sooners, they would play the winner of the Indiana-Norfolk State vs. Southern game, which I think we can all assume would be the Hoosiers.

Lunardi has KU as a 2 seed in the Midwest, taking on Long Beach State in the second round. That winner would face the San Diego State-Colorado winner.

Kansas State, according to Lunardi’s most recent projection three days ago, is a 4 seed in the East Region and would meet Akron in the second round in Kansas City. That winner would face the winner of the Ohio State-California vs. Ole Miss game.

My thoughts: Really tough road for the Shockers, obviously. Indiana is the most likely No. 1 overall seed in the tournament and Dayton is just a short trip from Bloomington. But a WSU-OU game is intriguing and if you’re going to be in the tournament, why not go for a shot to pull a huge upset? I like this scenario a lot, but would give the Shockers only about a 10 percent chance of reaching the Sweet 16.

CBSSports.com (Jerry Palm)

Palm has Wichita State as a 10 seed in the Midwest, facing a slipping Oregon squad in the second round in Philadelphia. The winner would catch the Georgetown-Stony Brook winner.

Kansas is a 3 seed in the Midwest, according to Palm, and would take on South Dakota State in the second round in Kansas City with that winner headed for a game against the St. Mary’s-San Diego State winner. There’s the potential of a KU-WSU Sweet 16 game in Palm’s bracket, one that would take place in Indianapolis. The thought of such a game tickles my heart, but how realistic is it?

Kansas State, meanwhile, is a 4 seed in Palm’s bracket, set to meet Bucknell in the second round. That winner would face the Akron-Marquette winner in the East Region.

My thoughts: Even though the Shockers are seeded two spots lower, according to Palm, this is a much better scenario. Seems more likely that WSU could beat Oregon and Georgetown than Oklahoma and Indiana. But Georgetown is playing great basketball of late, so of course the Shockers would be big underdogs. Still, the WSU vs. KU Sweet 16 game that Palm suggests would be spectacular.

USA Today

The Shockers are a 10 seed in this bracket, playing a second-round Midwest Region game against Missouri in Auburn Hills, Mich. Win that one and guess who awaits? Most likely Michigan, which Palm has meeting up with Niagara in the second round.

Kansas also is in the Midwest Region in this bracket with a second round game against Long Beach State in Kansas City. The winner of Oregon-Creighton would await the Jayhawks.

Kansas State, meanwhile, is a 4 seed in the Midwest Region with a second round game against an interesting Louisiana Tech team. If the Wildcats were to win that game, to be played in Austin according to the USA Today mock, they would face the winner of Ohio State-LaSalle.

My thoughts: Again, being in that 7 to 10 range makes it difficult to think WSU could get past two games in the tournament. But the Shockers would be an even bet to beat Missouri, I would think. And Michigan has showed some chinks in its armor of late, although the Wolverines would have a decided home-court advantage. I think the Jerry Palm bracket bodes best for Wichita State to reach the Sweet 16 while the Lunardi bracket, in which the Shockers would have to get past Oklahoma to face Indiana, almost guarantees an early exit.