Monthly Archives: January 2014

Friday musings

* I avoid much of the Super Bowl hype. There’s too much repetition and some of the football talk is way too technical for me. I’m FOOTball guy. Not FOOOOOOOOTBALLLLLLL GUUUUUUUUUY!!!!!!. I look forward to watching the game Sunday with some friends. I’ll be into it. I’m pulling for Seattle, even though I think Denver will win. I think Peyton Manning will have a great game and in so doing will create a discussion about whether or not he’s the greatest quarterback of all-time.

* Manning is certainly in that discussion now, before Sunday’s Super Bowl. But a second win – a second ring – will give his supporters more ammunition and credibility to make the Manning case. Personally, I think Joe Montana is the greatest quarterback in NFL history and that he’ll continue to be even if Manning and the Broncos beat Seattle. But Manning will gain momentum in the debate.

* Denver 27, Seattle 21. That’s my prediction.

* How will Evansville sophomore D.J. Balentine perform against Wichita State tomorrow afternoon at Koch Arena? Interesting question. Balentine is coming off a 43-point performance in a loss to Northern Iowa the other night. He’s averaging 23 points per game and he can really shoot. But the Shockers’ Tekele Cotton can really defend and he’ll likely draw the defensive assignment against Balentine. There’s not much intrigue about the outcome of the game – the Shockers should win handily. But at least the game within the game – Balentine going against Cotton – is interesting.

* It took three episodes, but I’m all in now on the HBO series True Detective. The guy in the gas mask and underwear shown at the end of last week’s episode looks interesting, huh?

* Didn’t we used to consider Matthew McConaughey a fringe actor? And hasn’t he exploded into being one of the the best actors in Hollywood? Fascinating. Every time I see this guy now, I’m wowed. And I haven’t even seen his performance yet in Dallas Buyers Club, which I’m told might be his best.

* Woody Harrelson ain’t too shabby, either. I can write “ain’t” in a blog. I wouldn’t get away with that in print. I love blogs.

* Timothy Oliphant is the only thing (he’s really not a thing, he’s a person) holding Justified together so far this season. Thank goodness for Timothy.

* I trek to Indiana State and Northern Iowa with the Shockers next week, with a stop in Rockford, Ill., in between to get some material for a Fred VanVleet column. I really hope the weather cooperates. I really, really hope that.

* I hope a lot of you will join us at Side Pockets on Feb. 16, March 2 and March 16 as we play out the Shocker Invitational. It should be fascinating. And interesting. And cool. Check Sunday’s paper for more details.

* I received poor conduct evaluations when I was in school. I’ve mellowed considerably since.

* Getting old(er) is a bizarre experience. Those of you who are there or getting there know what I mean. You others just wait.

* I used to enjoy political discussions. Now I loathe them. The discourse is alarming. I feel like Americans, in many cases, hate one another because of political affiliation. That’s not how it was supposed to work. Then again, it isn’t working. It’s so not working, in fact.

* I’m guilty of judging people for their political views, too. The problem is that clear lines have been drawn politically, especially with social issues. And they are the most divisive. We can have a courteous debate about the best way to get the economy going. We cannot have a courteous debate about abortion or guns. And I’m not sure we ever will.

* I’ve never depressed myself while doing Friday musings, but I’m on the verge. I need something positive for this next bullet item.

* Pitchers and catchers for the Arizona Diamondbacks report to spring training next Thursday. Now that’s positive. The Diamondbacks open the MLB season against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Australia this season on March 22, I believe.

* I was just watching Don Henley discuss his new album, Cass County. He says it will be released in early fall, after the Eagles’ tour winds down in the middle of June. It’s a country album, he said, with some “Americana” music. I can’t wait.

* Do I want to spend $114 so my wife and I can see Kenny Rogers at the Orpheum in May? I think I do but I haven’t yet and tickets went on sale today.

* Is there anything worse than freezing drizzle? I’m so sick of winter. I need a winter home somewhere warm, like San Diego. The only thing about redeeming trait of winter is college basketball. How would we get through winter without it?

* Thanks to Shocker players Ron Baker, Cleanthony Early, Fred VanVleet and Tekele Cotton for providing our bumper music on Sports Daily this week. And we also got six songs from Gregg Marshall. It was a fun music week.

* The Milwaukee Brewers could be a darkhorse in the National League this season.

* The Kansas City Royals are one pitcher away from being a serious – S-E-R-I-O-U-S – threat in the American League Central. Sorry, that pitcher isn’t Bruce Chen.

* I think Kansas will win the national championship in men’s basketball. I think Wichita State might play Kansas in the Final Four. I think it would be a heck of a game. Wouldn’t that be something?

* I might change my mind on that tomorrow. The college basketball season is fluid. But right now, KU looks like the best team in the country to me.

* It’s so hard to judge Wichita State because of the Shockers’ competition, or lack thereof, in the Missouri Valley Conference. I know WSU is really good. I’m not sure how really good. Know what I mean?

* I’m not sure there’s been a time in WSU history where the Shockers had four starters as talented as VanVleet, Early, Baker and Cotton. They all know their roles. Maybe Antoine Carr, Cliff Levingston, Tony Martin and Randy Smithson in the early 1980s? Or Carr, Levingston, Martin and Aubrey Sherrod? That’s pretty salty. WSU had Dave Stallworth, Nate Bowman, Kelly Pete, Dave Leach and the combination of Ernie Moore and Leonard Kelley in 1963-64. That’s pretty salty, too. I believe that team is the best in Shocker history.

* OK, have a cold, slippery weekend, everyone. Enjoy the Super Bowl. Enjoy tomorrow’s college basketball games. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.

 

Memories of a sports writer

The newspaper business is changing. Have you heard? We’re trying to re-invent ourselves. Video is the new wave while television reporters are doing more writing.

Such a strange juxtaposition. And one that isn’t easy for a veteran like myself.

I like video as much as the next guy. I’m even the co-star of a very popular Wichita State post-game video with Wichita State beat writer Paul Suellentrop. We’ve done about 20 of those videos to date and they’re big hits on the black market.

I’m a writer by trade. It’s what I do. I figure if I write something, enough people will read it to keep me employed. But now we have ways of tracking how many people read our stuff online.

I’m a sucker for a good story. Or a good column. Or telling people something they might not know.

I just finished a column on Kansas basketball and the Jayhawks’ dominance in Big 12 play. I dug into the numbers a little bit and found them to be almost shocking. It’s incredible to me how much KU has owned the Big 12.

I like doing columns that require research. I like familiarizing myself with history. It was fun to peruse the Kansas basketball media guide for an hour or so before the Jayhawks’ game against Iowa State on Wednesday night at Allen Fieldhouse and some more this afternoon.

Writing is the skill I have that sets me apart. And by that, I’m not saying I’m some fantastic writer. I’m just saying it’s what I’m better at than anything else.

It’s a little intimidating for a newspaper guy with my experience to enter the video age. Video isn’t always kind to me. My hair is gray. My skin is wrinkled. I don’t have that same charming smile that wooed the girls back in high school.

It was always best, in my estimation, to keep my face hidden and to let written words express my thoughts.

Then I started doing radio, which is another great way of communicating without being seen. I have no problem with a microphone; it’s the camera that bothers me.

I never know how to look in these videos when Paul is talking. I glance at him with approval sometimes. I try to stay in touch with the camera because I heard some TV person say that’s important. And when I do look at the camera, I try to find just the right smile.

It can’t be too broad at the risk of being a dork. But it has to be a smile, which in turn has to be pleasant. I try not to scowl at the camera, for instance, even though I scowl through most of my day.

Our videos last anywhere from two to three minutes, I think, although Paul is a bit windy at times. We did a video last week in a motel room in Normal, Ill., after the Shockers played Illinois State. At Drake a few nights later, we were able to get WSU radio analyst Bob Hull to hold the camera while we did our video.

We improvise. We don’t have producers, directors, makeup artists and lighting technicians. We depend on someone to hold a cell phone camera as still as they can and we talk about the game.

So far, we haven’t needed more than one take for any of the videos. That’s not because we do them well; it’s because we both want to get our work done and get home.

We’re told the videos generate a good amount of hits at Kansas.com. And who doesn’t love to be hit?

I never thought when I got into the newspaper business all those years ago that video would become part of the job. I’m not even sure video existed back then.

But you do what you gotta do in this high-flying business. Paul and I will star in another video after Wichita State’s game against Evansville on Saturday at Koch Arena. Next week, we’ll be video stars after games in Terre Haute, Ind., and Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Have the Academy Award nominations been announced?

 

Lists, lists, lists

It’s Wednesday, which means I’m going to share some lists. People loves lists and I’m no different. So when I do lists like this, my hope is that you’ll think of your own top fives or top 10s.

It’s just something fun.

Five favorite Grammy moments from Sunday night

1. Metallica’s performance of One with Chinese pianist Lang Lang. I’m hardly a Metallica devotee. But

Chinese pianist Lang Lang and Metallica front man James Hetfield rocked the Grammys.

Chinese pianist Lang Lang and Metallica front man James Hetfield rocked the Grammys.

something about that performance – maybe it was the incredible piano – made me take notice.

2. Beyonce and Jay-Z opening the show. Oh, who am I kidding? Beyonce.

3. Pink flying around on the trapeze. And singing. But mostly flying around.

4. Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard and Blake Shelton. Not that it was good. In fact, the three older gentlemen are near the end of the line. But they’re also icons and it was neat to see them together.

5. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, with Madonna. We are squarely in the year 2014.

6. Bonus pick. The band Chicago performing with Robin Thicke. Strange pairing. But good to hear Saturday in the Park.

Five favorite current St. Louis Cardinals

1. Yadier Molina

2. Adam Wainwright

3. Allen Craig

4. Matt Carpenter

5. Michael Wacha

Five favorite Cardinals from 1967

1. Bob Gibson

2. Orlando Cepeda

3. Lou Brock

4. Tim McCarver

5. Julian Javier

Five favorite candies

1. Milk Duds

2. Mike and Ikes

3. Junior Mints

4. Starburst

5. Rolos

Five people I’d love to interview for an hour

1. Don Henley

2. Bill Snyder

3. Martin Scorsese

4. Linda Ronstadt

5. Mike Krzyzewski

Five things that scare me

1. Falling backward (I’ve had nightmares about this forever. It’s very odd.)

2. Snakes

3. Airplanes (a recent occurrence and one I need to conquer)

4. Airports (perhaps this is the reason for No. 3?)

5. The Exorcist. I saw this movie in 1974 and I’m still not over it.

Things I wish I did more often

1. Read books. I know, right? You’re probably wondering how I got to be so smart.

2. Exercise. I should go to the gym every day. Every single day. It’s fun. And I’m doing better. Still, every day.

3. Watched more of the History Channel.

4. Give my wife the remote control.

5. Tell people how much they mean to me. But only the people who really do mean something to me, not those who don’t.

Five cool Kansas towns

1. Winfield. I was born there so perhaps I’m bias. But I love that town.

2. Abilene. I purposely take K-15 when I cover games in Manhattan just so I can drive through Abilene. It soothes me.

3. Dodge City. I’m ashamed to say, I haven’t visited in several years.

4. Parsons. I go there frequently now because my wife’s family roots are in southeast Kansas.

5. Derby. It’s kind of like Wichita, only smaller. But when I grew up there, Derby was a quaint, cool town.

 

 

The Pro Bowl needs to go away

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the hard hit Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson put on Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles had knocked Charles out of the Pro Bowl with his second concussion in as many games.

Remember, Charles missed most of the Chiefs’ AFC wild-card playoff game against Indianapolis after suffering a hit early.

But he was out there for the Pro Bowl, the most meaningless “competition” in all of sports. And because of a new format, in which teammates can be opponents, he and Johnson found themselves on, literally, a collision course.

Johnson’s tackle of Charles looked worse than it was. Charles got up, dusted himself off and went back to wondering why he ever agreed to play in the game.

Johnson, meanwhile, dodged the possibility of becoming a vilified Chiefs player simply because he did what he’s trained to do – hit somebody.

This craziness has to stop. The Pro Bowl must now cease to exist. No more trips to Hawaii for these guys.

It doesn’t matter what anyone does to try and make the Pro Bowl more watchable and legitimate. It will never be either.

First of all, nobody cares who wins the Pro Bowl, least of all the players.

Football junkies watch the Pro Bowl. I assume some of the more disturbed in this group even bet on the game.

What a waste of time.

Unless . . . unless someone like Charles suffers a serious injury. Inflicted by a teammate, no less. If Charles had been unable to continue in the Pro Bowl . . . first of all he would have been lucky. Secondly, though, what would have been the fallout in Kansas City?

Charles is the franchise player for the Chiefs. Of every player on the team’s 53-man roster, he’s the one Kansas City could least afford to lose.

It would be one thing, I suppose, for Charles to suffer a Pro Bowl injury that was inflicted by someone from the Bears, Lions or Giants. But from his own team?

Nonsensical. What exactly are guys like Charles and Johnson doing on opposing teams? Is that supposed to make the Pro Bowl more interesting?

It doesn’t. It makes it more dangerous, but not more interesting.

Let’s take this to worse-case-scenario status. Suppose Charles not only suffers a concussion, but also tears a muscle. He has to miss six months. Or nine months. Of a year.

All because his own guy hit him in a Pro Bowl?

This is ludicrous and it must be stopped. Goodell nearly pulled the plug on this nonsense a couple of years ago, then relented and mandated that some changes to the game take place.

So this year, Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders were named honorary coaches and participated in a draft of players. Which is why, in some cases, friends became foes. And why Johnson was in a place to hit Charles in the first place.

Incredibly, 11.7 million watched the Pro Bowl on Sunday, according to television ratings. Compared to last year’s Super Bowl, which drew 108.4 million viewers, that’s a drop in the bucket. Still, 11.7 million had nothing better to do than watch the Pro Bowl?

I don’t understand. I do not believe I have watched one play of a Pro Bowl in at least 10 years and probably more like 20 or 30. I’ll watch an NBA All-Star game over a Pro Bowl. I’ll watch an infomercial on chlorine before I’ll watch a Pro Bowl.

Do I have go give back my man card?

The NFL is the most popular sports league in the universe. It doesn’t need an All-Star game to appease its fan base. Or its players, who would be happy just to stay home even if it means not getting an expenses-paid trip to Hawaii.

Make this game stop. No more. Keep Jamaal Charles out of harm’s way because apparently Derrick Johnson isn’t bright enough to play nice.

 

Friday musings

* As we near the halfway point in Missouri Valley Conference play, it’s interesting to assess how many Wichita State basketball players might make the All-Valley first team. It would seem at this point that Cleanthony Early and Fred VanVleet are locks.

* But what about Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton? Baker got off to an incredible start but an ankle injury suffered on Dec. 13, the day before the Shockers played Tennessee at Intrust Bank Arena, slowed him down. And I don’t think Baker is all the way back yet. In seven Missouri Valley Conference games, Baker is averaging only 11 points. And he’s shooting just 34.4 percent from the field. There’s no doubt in my mind that Baker is one of the best players in the Valley. And nobody would be surprised if he made a strong push for first-team All-Valley honors the rest of the way. But he’s not an All-Valley player yet.

* Cotton, meanwhile, is as good a defensive player as there is in the Valley and all of the other conferences in America. If he’s not the Valley’s defensive player of the year, there should be an investigation. But Cotton probably doesn’t score enough to be a first-team All-Valley pick. Then again, his defense and intelligence for the game are so overwhelming that he has a shot. Conceivably, WSU could get four players on the All-Valley team.

* Who are candidates from the other nine teams? Bradley’s Walt Lemon and Evansville’s D.J. Balentine are outstanding scorers. So is Southern Illinois senior Desmar Jackson. All three, though, are deficient in other aspects. And because the teams they’re on are void of much other talent, they have to score.

* The best player I’ve seen outside of Wichita State’s yellow and black is Missouri State’s Jarmar Gulley, who has an all-around game that would fit being an all-conference player. Gulley is good offensive and defensively and works hard on both ends.

* Drake’s Richard Carter, who the Shockers will see Saturday night when they play the Bulldogs in Des Moines, has impressive numbers. So does Loyola freshman Milton Doyle, who started his career at Kansas two seasons ago before transferring to Loyola. Northern Iowa big man Seth Tuttle is another who will be in the All-Valley discussion. But I’m not sure I’d trade any of the four top Shockers for another player in the conference.

* I finally made it to see The Wolf of Wall Street on Thursday night in Bloomington, Ill. Wow. It was so over the top; three hours of craziness. Leonardo DiCaprio was a raving lunatic for most of the movie. There was so much sex and drugs. But you know what? I was entertained. It was the most frenetic Martin Scorsese movie I’ve ever seen. And that’s saying something, considering Scorsese is Hollywood’s most prolific envelope pusher.

* DiCaprio was great. I don’t think he was Academy Award-great because the role was so wacky. But that man acted his tail off. There was a scene near the end, where he and his Wall Street buddy, played by Jonah Hill, are taking one quaalude after another, convinced the pills have lost some strength from being on a shelf for so long. Turns out, the pills had gained strength. It just took the drug a bit longer to unleash. But boy, when it did. The result is the best scene of the movie.

* Then there was Margot Robbie, who played DiCaprio’s second wife. I had never heard of this actress. She, folks, looks like a movie star. She’s stunning. Why didn’t I know who she was?

* I still need to see three of the nine movies nominated for Best Picture: Philomena, Her and Dallas Buyers Club. My favorite to win is still 12 Years a Slave.

* The Grammy Awards are always fun and they’re coming up Sunday night on CBS. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are scheduled to appear. I’ll be very disappointed if they don’t appear together. There’s no way the Grammys could have these guys in the same building and not put them together, right?¬† Starr is scheduled to perform his 1973 hit Photograph¬†against a montage of photos from his book of the same name. Paul has to join him. Has to.

* I’m looking forward to seeing Robin Thicke perform with Chicago. The Grammys always produces odd combinations like that, which makes it fun.

* Harry Connick Jr., has been a great addition to American Idol. The man is funny. And he’s a tough judge. Putting those two qualities together can’t be easy, but so far Connick is pulling it off. He’s given the show new life.

* I’m having trouble following all of the story lines in Justified so far this season. Maybe I’m slowing down. It’s still a very entertaining show, but I’m not sure exactly what’s going on. Anyone?

* Why aren’t Eden Sher, Charlie McDermott and Neil Flynn bigger stars? Have you heard of them? Do you even know what I’m talking about? They play Sue, Axl and father Mike Heck on The Middle and they’re all great. That show’s been great for a while now but none of these actors have become stars. That’s surprising to me.

* Baseball season nears. That makes me happy. I love college basketball, trust me. And covering the Shockers the past few seasons has been one of the highlights of my long, long, loooonnnnggg career. But I’m always really happy when baseball arrives. And spring. I think they’re related.

* I made the drive from central Illinois to central Iowa today. It’s not one of the prettiest. But I love driving. I’m not sure when that started, either. I don’t think I used to love driving. In fact, I’m pretty sure I used to hate it. But we change in life, which is part of what makes life so wonderful.

* There’s no extra charge for the blog when I philosophize, by the way.

* Will Tiger Woods win a major this year? I say he won’t.

* Interested in coaching a youth baseball team in League 42? Give me a holler. I think you would love the experience.

* I love Suite Judy Blue Eyes by Crosby, Stills and Nash. And I love anything Linda Ronstadt sings. I heard her do a Frank Sinatra song on the drive over to Ames today and was riveted.

* Have a great weekend. Gonna hit the town in Ames with some friends tonight. We might be out until 8 or 8:30. Watch out Ames, here we come.

 

Memories of a sports writer

I was thinking today about what makes newspaper people different.

So many things, really, but what are the characteristics that set us apart from the rest? Let’s be honest here, nobody gets into journalism to make money. Some – very few – get rich in this business. But for the most part, the hours are long and all over the place and the money is just OK.

So what is it about us? Why, for instance, is the pull of newspapers so strong for me, personally?

I’m inquisitive. I like trying to understand people. Interesting people, at least.

I like to know what people are thinking and how their life experiences shaped them. Don’t just tell me you like baseball, tell me why you like baseball. That’s an example.

I’m intrigued by greatness. On Wednesday night, after Tekele Cotton’s amazing dunk in Wichita State’s game against Illinois State, I couldn’t wait to ask Cotton about the dunk. In my mind, I had conjured up a scenario in which he was going to become entertainingly analytical about his incredible athletic achievement. I was hoping he would break it down for me – and for readers – in an entertaining way.

But Cotton didn’t do that. He was polite when he answered my questions about the dunk. He’s always polite and there’s nobody I’d rather have on my side than Cotton.

To expect a 21-year-old to be analytical about something like that was, though, unrealistic. So I got the standard quotes and did my best to add color and ambiance to the dunk.

That’s my job as a writer. But my job as a writer is made easier when the people I’m writing about have similar introspective desires.

Most don’t.

Because I’m introspective and wish for others to be doesn’t mean I’m smarter than those who aren’t. It just means I’m constantly looking for the whys and hows. I’ve learned over time that most people, at least outwardly, aren’t as inquisitive as I am.

And I think being inquisitive is a trait most good journalists and newspaper people share. We like telling stories and the more interesting the people we write about, the better the story.

Last year, just before the Final Four, The Eagle’s Rick Plumlee was assigned to write a profile story about Cotton. And he pulled it off masterfully by talking to the people who know Cotton best: his family, friends and coaches.

Introspection comes with age. It’s rare for Cotton and others his age to reach for introspection because they’re living their lives in the moment. They – and I hate being too general here – haven’t taken the time to inspect their feelings and thoughts because there’s no reason to, really.

In 20 years, Cotton will have much more to say about the experience he’s living now. Time will lead to reflection, which will lead to an ability to assess the experience.

Our job as journalists, really, is to get people to share their thoughts, experiences, ideas, etc. And it’s not an easy job because most people are uncomfortable sharing those things. Trust has to be established, and sometimes there’s just not enough time.

I’ll use the Shocker basketball team as an example. As a columnist, I’m around these players some, but not a lot. I see them usually after games or occasionally after a practice. Occasionally, when I do something more in depth about a player, I’ll get to spend 20 or 30 minutes doing an interview.

I’ve been able to build some trust with some of the players. I’ve been able to learn quite a bit, for instance, about point guard Fred VanVleet, who is always willing to talk. He’s forthcoming and mature beyond his years. VanVleet and teammates Ron Baker and Cleanthony Early are all interesting guys. And young guys who haven’t totally grasped the notion of introspection.

While most people are most interested in their ability to shoot, pass, dribble and defend, I’m drawn to them as people. Who are they when they’re not being a Shocker basketball standout?

If I had to define what being a newspaper guy is, that’s probably the best description I can give. We like to dig beneath the surface. It’s why we’re so irritating.

 

Lists, lists, lists

Five favorite St. Louis Cardinals first basemen

1. Albert Pujols (I’m over him leaving and he gave the Cardinals 11 incredible seasons)

2. Keith Hernandez (although he became more known as a Met)

3. Richie Allen (his stay in St. Louis was brief, but exciting)

4. Bill White (from the old days when I first became a Cardinals fan)

5. Mark McGwire (I know, I know, HGH)

Five favorite Kansas City Kings (1972-73 through 1984-85)

1. Tiny Archibald

2. Scott Wedman

3. Sam Lacey (man, that guy could sweat)

4. Eddie Johnson

5. Ed Nealy

Five future NBA coaches who played for the Kings

1. Mike D’Antoni

2. Rick Adelman

3. Larry Drew

4. Matt Guokas

5. Mike Woodson

All-time great who was the Kings’ first head coach

Bob Cousy

Five others who you might be surprised played for the Kings

1. Lucius Allen (KC Wyandotte and UCLA legend)

2. Len Elmore

3. Jo Jo White (Kansas great)

4. Reggie Theus

5. Dave Robisch (Kansas great)

Ten favorite Wichita Aeros players

1. Richie Scheinblum

2. Buddy Bell

3. Chris Chambliss

4. Ted Ford

5. John Lowenstein

6. Joe Decker

7. Mike Krukow

8. Lee Smith

9. Bruce Sutter (OK, he wasn’t with the Aeros long, but he’s a Hall of Famer)

10. Harry Dunlop (old-school manager I got along with)

Favorite sports venues I’ve been to

1. Boston Garden, the old one

2. Busch Stadium, 1 and 2

3. Fenway Park

4. Wrigley Field

5. Staples Center, though never for a Lakers game

I’m ashamed to say I never made it to the old Yankee Stadium. The new one doesn’t hold the same appeal.

Five best City League boys basketball coaches

1. Steve Eck, South

2. Cy Sickles, East

3. Bill Himebaugh, South

4. Carl Taylor, Southeast and West

5. Joe Auer, Heights

Thanks for reading. Keep reading the blog. I get paid more if you do.

 

 

No love for VanVleet

I have another chip for Gregg Marshall and his Wichita State basketball players to put on their shoulders.

Wednesday afternoon, as I was looking around for things to read, I came across a list of the Top 25 players

Fred VanVleet (right) has been as important to Wichita State as any player in the country has been to his team.

Fred VanVleet (right) has been as important to Wichita State as any player in the country has been to his team.

in college basketball this season, compiled by ESPN Insider John Gasaway.

Well, first of all, I would suggest that Gasaway get outside more often.

Anyway, as I suspected, the list, which I’ll run down later, includes no player from the fifth-ranked Shockers, who take a 19-0 record into tonight’s game at Illinois State. Not one.

I don’t want to sound like a homer here, but if you’re going to compile a list of the best 25 players in college basketball season and you’re not putting Fred VanVleet on that list, you’ve lost me.

The Shockers’ Cleanthony Early did make the Wooden Award midseason Top 25 list, revealed Wednesday. So there’s that and congratulations to Early.

But VanVleet is the midseason MVP of the Shockers. And while he’s only a sophomore, and he wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American, and Dicky V isn’t shouting his name from the rooftops, VanVleet has to be one of the best 25 players in the country this season.

Has to be.

Look at his assist-to-turnover rate. Look at the way he’s shooting the ball. Look at his steals and how many times he gets to the free-throw line. Look at his defense.

VanVleet has been amazing for the Shockers. Key word there? Shockers.

By failing to list VanVleet, Gasaway is falling in line with so many others nationally who refute Wichita State’s No. 5 ranking and unbeaten record. He’s not a believer, obviously. And I hate to generalize because I have never spoken with Gasaway about Wichita State.

To omit VanVleet, though, is to omit credibility.

Gasaway writes that he used several sources to help him with his rankings, including kenpom.com, hoop-math.com, sports-reference.com and translations that project NBA performance based on college metrics.

He also wrote that his list was not meant to be a referendum on how a player might perform at the next level. He’s adamant that he’s grading college players based on their college performance.

Well, I use trustmyeyes.com when it comes to VanVleet. And while I’ve seen many of the other players on the list, I obviously haven’t seen them nearly as often as I’ve seen VanVleet.

So here is Gasaway’s Top 25:

1. Doug McDermott, Creighton

2. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State

3. Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh

4. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse

5. Julius Randle, Kentucky

6. Jabari Parker, Duke

7. DeAndre Kane, Iowa State

8. Jordan Adams, UCLA

9. Joel Embiid, Kansas

10. C.J. Fair, Syracuse

11. Russ Smith, Louisville

12. JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova

13. K.J. McDaniels, Clemson

14. Casey Prather, Florida

15. Rodney Hood, Duke

16. Nick Johnson, Arizona

17. Keith Appling, Michigan State

18. Aaron Gordon, Arizona

19. Kyle Anderson, UCLA

20. Shabazz Napier, Connecticut

21. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas

22. Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati

23. Nik Stauskas, Michigan

24. Xavier Thames, San Diego State

25. Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State

It’s a good list. I’ve seen most of these players, at least in a game or two.

I’ve seen VanVleet play most of his young college career. He’s a great point guard and this ESPN insider has been cooped up too long.

 

KU marches on

Kansas looks to me like a basketball team that could win a national championship in early April inside house that Jerry built in Dallas.

Then again, Kansas looks to me like a team that could get knocked out in the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

It just depends on when I’m watching Kansas.

The Jayhawks remained unbeaten in Big 12 play Monday night with a 10-point win over Baylor at Allen Fieldhouse. That’s no small accomplishment, since KU has beaten Iowa State and Oklahoma on the road and beaten Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Baylor at home.

All five of those opponents are ranked in the Top 25. And Kansas jumped to No. 8 in today’s poll. The Jayhawks are definitely on the move.

And for stretches of games, they look dominant. Then they don’t.

Kansas looks like the kind of team that could be shocked by a less-talented club when March rolls around. But the Jayhawks also look like a team made for the long haul.

They’re still making too many silly mistakes and after committing 16 turnovers Monday night have 59 in the past three games. That’s not the attention to detail that the best teams normally show. Wichita State, for instance, is averaging just under 10 turnovers per game.

Speaking of WSU, Shockers Ron Baker, Cleanthony Early and Nick Wiggins – Andrew’s older brother – got some face time and talk time on the ESPN broadcast. Sideline reporter Holly Rowe essentially asked the Shockers’ players how WSU would stack up against Kansas.

They did a great job of side-stepping the question. Nick Wiggins mumbled something before Early said something like “basketball is basketball” and Baker chimed in with a take that KU being good is a good thing for the state.

I was hoping for a Richard Sherman moment when one of them said something like: “Yeah, we’re better than Kansas. Kansas, they’re sloppy. We’re not sloppy. We’re ready to play these sorry guys now, after this game is over. We’ll make a call and get Fred, Tekele and the rest up here. We’re ready to go.”

A Wichita State-Kansas dream matchup will have to wait for the NCAA Tournament.

Until then, KU still has work to do. The Jayhawks are in great shape to win another Big 12 championship (what else is new?) but they’re far from a finished product.

So far, though, the rise turnovers haven’t cost Kansas a win. Because while the Jayhawks haven’t resolved all of their ballhandling issues, they are locking down on defense. Bill Self’s young team has made great strides defensively this season and the Baylor game is the latest example.

Wichita Heights’ Perry Ellis had a nice game Monday night with 18 points and five rebounds. That was good to see after a sub-par game against Oklahoma State over the weekend. Freshman guard Frank Mason, who has been in and out all season, was in against the Bears with nine points and six assists.

KU coach Bill Self is still trying to put his team together. That the Jayhawks went through five contending teams without a hiccup is a great sign but it’s not a team that looks unbeatable.

Kansas still has to play on the road at Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Baylor. I suppose Texas Tech could give the Jayhawks a test in Lubbock, although that seems unlikely.

Iowa State and Oklahoma will be in Lawrence later. And I’ll be shocked if Kansas has a slip up like it did last season in losing at TCU.

This team is more likely to continue to improve and get better than it is to plateau or see a drop-off in play. A team with this much talent has no limits. A team with this much youth has no guarantees.

 

 

Friday musings

* Can Indiana State beat Wichita State at Koch Arena on Saturday afternoon? Yes, but there are some caveats. First, the Shockers would have to play a sub-par game. And the feeling I have about tomorrow’s battle of Missouri Valley Conference unbeatens is that the Shockers are primed for their best game in a while.

* Why do I think that? A few reasons. The Shockers are at home and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN2. There are critics of Wichita State and what is perceived as a soft schedule. The Shockers will want to make a statement to one of the biggest viewing audiences they’ve had this season. Also, it’s Hall of Fame day at Koch Arena. Six former Wichita State athletes, including three of the greatest players in Shocker basketball history, will be honored at halftime. There are years in which the Hall of Fame ceremony would not necessary have much to do with the performance of a team. But tomorrow is different. Robert Elmore, Jason Perez and Joe Stevens are big names in the history of WSU basketball. Perez and Stevens still live in Wichita and will have large contingents of friends and family. And by know you know Elmore’s story.

* I’m honored that later this evening I will be introducing Len Elmore and the rest of the Elmore family during the Shocker Sports Hall of Fame banquet at Koch Arena. This is one of the highlights of my career, honestly. I am thankful to the Hall of Fame committee for voting Elmore into this hall. And I’m happy that some of his family members will be here to enjoy the ceremonies.

* I look for the Shockers to win handily against Indiana State. The Sycamores are a good team, not a great one. They lack depth but are dangerous. The point guard match-up between Jake Odum and the Shockers’ Fred VanVleet will be one of the best in the country so far this season. Odum has an advantage in size and experience. Something tells me, though, that VanVleet will rise to this occasion as he has written to every occasion of his young career.

* Prediction? Wichita State 72, Indiana State 62.

* Oklahoma State visits the scene of the crime Saturday in Lawrence, where the Cowboys knocked off Kansas last season inside Allen Fieldhouse. Of course, the Cowboys are good enough to make it two in a row. But Kansas has such an advantage in size that I look for KU to take care of business. It will be interesting to see how this team continues to grow and mature. It’s been a fascinating season for Bill Self and his coaching staff, as they try to mold together a young and talented team with at least two players – Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid – who will probably head to the NBA draft after just one season.

* Kansas State is at home against West Virginia on Saturday. The Cats should roll a Mountaineers team that has been abysmal so far on the road.

* We’re taking about 75 kids and their parents to the Wichita Thunder game on Sunday afternoon at Intrust Bank Arena. Which means I won’t be watching the two NFL conference championship games live. I am recording and my plan is to avoid being told or stumbling on to the scores while we’re at the hockey game. But you know how that goes. I do like Seattle and New England to advance, though. I think most are picking San Francisco and Denver. Until proven otherwise, I think the Patriots are inside Peyton Manning’s head. We’ll see.

* I was stunned, then angered, about Emma Thompson’s snub in the best actress category for the Academy Awards. She was great as P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks. Absolutely great. She stole the movie. It was one of the best performances of the year, in my opinion. And then no nomination? Meanwhile, Sandra Bullock, as expected, was nominated for Gravity, one of the most overrated movies of all-time. I’m getting angry as I write this, honestly. I had calmed down and now I’m getting worked up again.

* Why do I care about Oscar nominations? Good question. I shouldn’t. These things are a million miles from me and do not affect me in the least. Or at least they shouldn’t. I suppose I want my opinions validated. I suppose, like my friends have told me for years, I think I’m always right.

* Here are the actors and the movie I hope win the five major awards at the Oscars. Best picture: 12 Years a Slave; Actor: Chiwetel Ejiofar, 12 Years a Slave; Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine; Supporting actor: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club; Supporting actress: June Squibb, Nebraska.

* I’ve seen five of the nominated movies: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Gravity, Nebraska, 12 Years a Slave. I haven’t seen: Dallas Buyers Club, Her, Philomena, The Wolf of Wall Street. I hope we’re going to the late showing of Philomena tonight.

* If you listen to Sports Daily, you know music is a big part of the show. This week was Van Halen week and it was one of my favorites. I had no idea what a big Van Halen fan I was until we started playing their songs as we came back from commercial breaks this week.

* Interested in coaching baseball? Let me know. We’re looking for folks to coach in League 42 and I think it would be a great experience for you guys who like kids and baseball.

* I was paying some attention to the NBA and then I just stopped. I apologize to all of you NBA fans out there. I was checking box scores every morning, trying to get excited about the league. But it’s so hard. Not that the NBA isn’t worthwhile. It is. But only for the playoffs. The rest of this stuff seems so meaningless to me.

* I won’t pass judgement yet on the use of instant replay in Major League Baseball. I want to see how it works. I’m optimistic, slightly, that it will be of assistance to the game. We live in an age where we want the right calls and we’re less tolerant of the human element. That’s understandable. But we also don’t want to prolong these games any more than they already are prolonged.

* I’m hoping for 4 degrees and blowing snow for the Super Bowl in New York/New Jersey. How about you?

* I’m getting back on the road for Missouri Valley Conference games. Next week, I’ll be at Illinois State and Drake. I’ve already been to Missouri State. I haven’t been on the road in the Valley regularly since the 1994-95 season. It’s going to be fun.

* Have a great weekend. Thanks for reading. I’ll be in touch.