Monday, April 25, 2011


The Kansas City Chiefs and Kansas basketball team both announced their upcoming schedules over the past couple of days and both have one thing in common--a high degree of difficulty.

Kansas released its non-conference schedule which will be the prelude to a conference season where, for the first time since the days of the Big 8, home-and-away series will be played with all conference members. In the non-conference portion of the schedule, KU faces none other than the duo of Kentucky (in New York) and Ohio State (at home), coupled with a trip to the Maui Invitational where the field includes the likes of Duke, Georgetown, UCLA, Michigan, Memphis and Tennessee. Other notable opponents include USC (in Los Angeles now after initial reports indicated that game might move to Wichita) and Davidson (in Sprint Center on Monday, December 19.)

The rough schedule is both blessing and curse--playing the best always is good prep for the post-season yet Kansas will have to face Kentucky early, on November 15, followed by the trip to Hawaii the following week. That's hardly the recipe for success for a team needing to fill gaps created by the departures of the Morris twins and Josh Selby. Bill Self has to hope that a team cutting its teeth early with these games, along with Jared Sullinger and OSU on December 10, will be primed and ready once the league season starts in January.

As for the Chiefs, they will not replicate their 2010 success by playing an equally soft schedule this fall. Kansas City must go on the road to Detroit (no longer an automatic win), Indianapolis, Chicago, New York Jets and New England, in addition to road visits to their division foes. The home schedule includes Minnesota, Miami (6-2 on the road last year), Pittsburgh and Green Bay.

One doesn't have to venture out on a long limb to predict that the Chiefs will not duplicate their 10-6 record of last season--they have a murderous schedule in 2011. As for the Jayhawks, an 8-5 non-conference start is not out of the question given who's on the schedule. My guess is that KU will start 10-3 with likely losses coming against Kentucky in New York and in games in Hawaii.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Recommended reading: Josh Selby

Full counts and foul balls

- The four-game series between the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians, which begins tonight, will be the best barometer to date on the 10-5 record of the Royals. K.C. could be accused of having played a very easy schedule to date and in the Indians will face the division leader.

- If you didn't see the end of yesterday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in Talladega, find the highlight. The winning margin of 0.002 seconds was the closest ever in NASCAR history. I thought Clint Bowyer was going to hold off Jimmie Johnson but Dale Earnhardt, Jr. helped push the 48 car to victory.

- Speaking of Talladega, it was a good day yesterday for Chevrolet--six of the eight top finishers drove Chevys, including the top five.

- That marathon called the NBA Finals started with some drama over the weekend. Both New Orleans and Memphis upset their higher seeded opponents yesterday and Atlanta did so on Saturday.

- If you're a Kansas football fan, you have to look longingly at Missouri's roster of quarterbacks given that the best Jayhawk QB isn't even on campus this spring. And, at that, he's a freshman--recruit Brock Berglund. It appears, in Columbia, that James Franklin won the starting nod over Tyler Gabbert exiting spring practice.

- North Carolina's Harrison Barnes said he's coming back for his sophomore season which means the Tarheels will likely be the preseason #1 pick in college hoops. UNC not only has Barnes back but also Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Dexter Strickland and Kendall Marshall.

- The Boston Red Sox have won two in a row, bringing the team back off of life support. The Bosox are now 4-10 with a home series beginning tonight against Toronto.

- Sign of the apocalypse: Joe Lunardi of ESPN actually has a bracketology out--for the 2012 NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament. If you're interested, Lunardi has Kansas as a seven seed and Kansas State as an eight seed; Missouri isn't listed among the 68 team field. Texas is a one seed.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Kansas Relays

It's April, meaning it's not only time for the Final Four, the opening days of baseball, The Masters and the beginning of the NBA Playoffs, but also relays season across the U.S. This is the month when the famous Penn Relays are held along with the long-established trifecta of the Texas Relays, Kansas Relays and Drake Relays.

The Kansas version was founded in 1923 by John Outland, then head football coach at the University of Kansas. (Yes, the same Outland whose name is on the annual trophy for the best college football lineman.) Outland got the idea from the Penn Relays, which remain the oldest and largest track meet in the U.S. He approached none other than Kansas basketball coach Phog Allen, who also served as athletics director, and the two combined to make the Kansas Relays a reality.

I was a regular attendee of the Kansas Relays in the 1970s when Kansas track was a perennial national championship contender for both indoor and outdoor titles. I saw Jim Ryun run a 3:54 mile during his sophomore season at KU, witnessed Ryun's numerous victories in various relay events, and also saw other Jayhawk notables like Karl Salb, George Byers, Nolan Cromwell, Jan Johnson, and many others compete. Olympians like Maurice Green and Marion Jones have stopped in Lawrence for the Relays, and the three-day event has provided a showcase for high schoolers, junior college athletes, and collegians to compete in a variety of individual and relay events.

The 88th edition of the Relays will take place this Thursday through Saturday in Kansas' Memorial Stadium. And, as is usually the case, I expect that rain drops will fall at some point during the festivities. You see, rain on the Relays is as much a tradition as the event itself.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Tiger and Albert

It was hard not to acknowledge the dichotomy between what we witnessed on Sunday afternoon on CBS versus what aired right after The Masters golf tournament on the same network.

From approximately 1:00-6:00 p.m. CDT, many of us were sucked into the CBS broadcast from Augusta, GA given Tiger Woods' five-under-par start on the front nine (excuse me--the "first nine," as it's referred to at Augusta National.) It was the Tiger of old--pumping fists, staring down putts into the hole and the swagger which has intimidated many a foe.

The back nine failed to produce the drama expected from Woods--no eagles materialized on 13 or 15 and Amen Corner exacted its revenge for his low score on the first nine. As a result, we saw the petulant Tiger which was on full display the day before--the slammed clubs, the audible curse, the body language which seemed to indicate that the golf gods had done him wrong and, of course, the terse interview after the round. For all of the lip service to how he's changed, Tiger's on-course behavior has only worsened.

Look, I think Woods is one of the most amazing--if not most amazing--athlete of this generation. And, yes, I want him to succeed, not because I think he's served his penance for his off-course soap opera story but because he's good for the game, and his performance on the course is often breathtaking.

I couldn't help but make the comparison, though, to what I watched on 60 Minutes after the CBS golf broadcast had ended. There was Albert Pujols, slugging star of the St. Louis Cardinals, discussing his 13th round draft selection and how it motivated him, coupled with story upon story of Pujols' off-field activities. He was shown dancing with Downs Syndrome teenagers who were treated to a prom put on by Pujols' foundation. We saw Albert and his wife administering aid to the poverty-stricken in his native Dominican Republic. And, in the most touching story of all, we heard about Pujols giving his bat--the bat which had just hit home run 400--to a child battling brain cancer. No film clip or photo was available of the moment as, you see, Pujols did it away from the glare of the team's public relations photographer and the local network news crew.

For the uninitiated who may not consider this an apt analogy, consider that none other than Peter Gammons, the acknowledged dean of baseball media in the U.S., said without hesitation that Pujols is one of the ten best baseball players of all time. His stature in his sport is every bit as important as Woods--the game needs a guy like Albert Pujols to restore credibility to a game tarnished by the steroid scandals of the past decade.

Tiger and Albert. Strange bedfellows in the game of comparing sports heroes. Yet, it was hard not to given that on Sunday, CBS made each the focal point of a broadcast program.

In this particular sports contest, it was Pujols in a runaway.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Dimes, dunks, quick whistles and blown putts

Idle thoughts and musings from the couch:

- CBS hyped the event and ticket scalpers on Washington Road were getting twice the expected amount for badges to today's Masters session. Alas, a hoped-for charge from Tiger Woods isn't materializing and the Masters championship is being fought for by guys named Choi and McIlroy.

- Is Josh Selby staying or is he going? Selby's tweets indicate a desire to have great workouts in Vegas yet he also tweeted Stan Simpson, the juco center Kansas is recruiting. If I were a betting man, I'd say Selby wants to go but his contact with Simpson indicates a possibility that he'll come back.

- Mike Alden's been a busy man over in Columbia, MO. Alden signed a new basketball coach this week and gave his football coach a contract extension.

- One could make the argument that with most sports events, the couch is a great place to catch the action. Not so The Masters--this is an event which is best experienced live and in living color. The TV also doesn't adequately capture the up-and-down geography of Augusta National Golf Club. Now, about getting a ticket to the tournament...

- Can you imagine The Masters--or any golf tournament for that matter--being called by guys like Kevin Harlan, Gus Johnson, Bill Raftery and Marv Albert? Now, that would be fun.

- Whatever happened to the Frank Martin to Miami rumors?

- A new name has popped up for those who follow Kansas basketball recruiting--SG Trevor Lacey. Lacey is a Parade All-American, the 35th ranked player in this class, and is considering KU, Alabama, Auburn, Connecticut and Kentucky.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Turnovers and quick whistles

The past three weeks of March Madness have been marvelous theater as we've been treated to the story of VCU's move from last in to Final Four participant, Butler's repeat as a regional winner, and the numerous tight games highlighting weekend one of the tournament.

Along the way we've also dealt with blown calls, under-achieving top seeds, and a national championship game known for the number of shots which did NOT go in the basket.

Let's review the lowlights, shall we?

- Number one seeds. None of the one seeds made it to the Final Four--Pitt lost in round two, Ohio State and Duke in round three, and Kansas in the Elite Eight.

- Number two seeds. North Carolina, San Diego State, Florida and Notre Dame could not take advantage of the early exits of the top seeds.

- Quick whistles. The most notable errant whistle was the phantom five-second call on Texas when they could not inbound the ball against Arizona.

- Big 12. Of the BCS conferences, the Big 12 fared the worst with a 5-5 record by their five participating teams.

- The state of Tennessee. First, the Athletics Director at Tennessee came out with a statement clearly indicating that head coach Bruce Pearl's days were numbered, then the Vols used that negative energy to lay an egg--a 30 point loss--against Michigan. Over in the Southwest Regional, Vanderbilt was awarded the five seed and abruptly exited--early again--to Richmond.

- Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale. I was right alongside Bilas on the night of Selection Sunday once it was announced that VCU and UAB had made the field and Colorado had not. Bilas and Dick Vitale, to their discredit, never made amends for their comments about VCU when it was clear that the Rams were one of the better teams in the tournament. Did they deserve to get in? By what we know of the selection process, they did not--but VCU clearly proved by their on-court play that they belonged and that should have been acknowledged by Bilas and Vitale.

- Stadiums. I know it's wishful thinking to believe that the NCAA will move Regional finals and the Final Four out of domes/enclosed stadiums--the benefit is that it provides greater opportunity for fans to see the games live. But please, go back to a stadium configuration where the floor is placed at one end of the venue, thus creating a bit more intimacy and improved sight lines. Sure, you'll sell 15,000-20,000 less tickets but the fan experience will be better and the shooting percentages of the involved teams will likely improve.

- Butler versus Connecticut. There were intriguing storylines last night--Butler's second Final Four appearance, Jim Calhoun's chance for redemption after his NCAA dust-up earlier this season, Kemba Walker's MOP candidacy, and whether the Butler bulldog should be allowed on the floor or not. This game, though, failed to deliver because both teams acted as if they had practiced every fundamental other than shooting. The post-game statistics were damning--Butler had more fouls than made shots and UConn, the national champion, had 11 turnovers to six assists. Years from now the list of national champions will still say "Connecticut" but the memory etched in our minds right now is of some really ugly basketball and the lowest point total since the 1949 title game.

Now, the offseason begins and, once again, we'll be treated to the annual drama of "who's staying/who's going" as players consider early exits and try to predict whether an NBA lockout is simply a possibility or a harsh reality. New coaches will settle in at places like Oklahoma, Missouri, North Carolina State, Georgia Tech and Tennessee, and spring commitments will be made by remaining blue-chippers who didn't make a decision in the fall.

Come October 15, we'll open the gyms once again for practice and the journey will start anew. Make no mistake, though, storm clouds are beginning to form on the college basketball vista--early exits are impacting the game, officiating is inconsistent from game to game and conference to conference, far too much emphasis is placed on tournament results with the regular season growing increasingly irrelevant, and that leads to the continued drumbeat to expand the tournamant field to 96 games.

It may be wishful thinking but here's hoping that the NCAA addresses the things necessary to improve the game without making wholesale changes which would disrupt the beauty, and drama, of these past three weeks.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The view from the dome

In my last post, I hypothesized about shooting percentage deterioration now that Final Fours, and many regionals, have moved exclusively into domes, and now that the playing floor has been stationed squarely in the middle of the cavernous venue.

Well, voila, a story in today's Wall Street Journal confirms my speculation--three-point shooting percentage, in particular, is noticeably lower in the larger stadiums.

Through Saturday's games, the three-point percentage in Reliant Stadium, site of this year's Final Four, is .310 compared to a .344 average for Division-1 games this season. Now, there are certainly other factors at play--notably, the quality of defense played by the competing teams--but the trend line of past Final Fours would seem to indicate that this isn't a one-year phenomenon.

Last year, the sight lines at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis must have been good as the four teams shot .365 from three-point land versus a seasonal D-1 average of .342. That Final Four has been the exception. In 2009, the Final Four was at Ford Field in Detroit and the comparison was .330 to .342. In 2008, the difference was most acute as Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina and UCLA combined for a .276 three-point shooting compared to the season average of .351. In 2007, it was .322 to .349 and in 2006 it was .292 to .348.

Collars tighten, defense is even more aggressive, and the stakes are obviously higher once teams advance to the Final Four. Yet, there is no denying that the venue and space used to seat 75,000 people makes a difference in the effectiveness of long-range shooting in these three games.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The buzz from Houston

No, no, no, I'm not actually in Houston this weekend--I'm just living vicariously through those whose teams did advance and are now playing in the national championship game in Reliant Stadium tomorrow evening.

- I haven't gone back and looked at the shooting percentages but my observation is that long-range shooting has suffered as some NCAA Tournament Regionals and all Final Fours have shifted into domes and/or enclosed football stadiums. With the new layout of the court centrally place, the perspective has got to be even more unique for jump shooters accustomed to crowds and other scenery in closer proximity to the basket.

- Lon Kruger to Oklahoma? Kruger has been a good coach at UNLV, winning almost 70% of his games so it was a bit of a surprise to see the announcement that the Kansas State grad was headed back to old Big 8 country. After stints at Florida (.565 winning percentage) and Illinois (.628), Kruger went to UNLV in 2004. The Running Rebels made two NIT appearances and four NCAA appearances during his seven years there, including a Sweet 16 in 2007.

- Will Shaka Smart stay at VCU or will schools like North Carolina State and Missouri come calling? The job in Raleigh seems a natural move given the proximity to Richmond and VCU.

- Kentucky's loss made Monday's national championship game a far easier ticket to obtain.

- Ben McLemore, shooting guard from St. Louis, MO, will make his recruiting decision today between Kansas and Missouri. McLemore has long been rumored to be a heavy lean towards KU but did not sign in the fall thus prompting speculation that he might end up in Columbia. MU's coaching vacancy would lead one to think that he'll announce for Kansas today. McLemore originally intended to broadcast his decision during halftime of the All Star game in which he's playing but CBS College Sports is now not airing that game so he will wait until after to make his pronouncement.

- The decision to have DeAndre Liggins hoist a three at the end of the Kentucky-Connecticut game last night seemed a questionable late-game decision. Down two, why did't John Calipari and the Wildcats put the ball in Brandon Knight's hands for the drive and dish, or the drive and shot which could easily result in a tip-in or foul?

- Other than the state of Connecticut and the Huskies' alumni base, who else is going to pull for Butler's opponent tomorrow night? Not many people...