Saturday, March 31, 2012

The view from the (Super) dome--Final Four edition

Greetings from New Orleans--the Crescent City, NOLA...the Big Easy.  This city embraces big events and last night's scene on Bourbon Street and the French Quarter was a reminder of why New Orleans is a perfect town for hosting Final Fours and Super Bowls.

Let's file our first "view from the (Super) dome" report, shall we?

- Many Kansas fans found it necessary to drive to New Orleans given the lack of flights or the cost of air travel.  There are three different routes, via Mapquest, and we chose the shortest route.  I can attest that highways in southern Missouri, into Arkansas and then into Mississippi leave much to be desired.

- Spotted on the streets last night--Jeanell Taylor (Tyshawn Taylor's mother) and Angel Morris, mom of Marcus and Markieff Morris.  We introduced ourselves and got big smiles from both of the proud moms.

- The leader in the fan clubhouse thus far is Kentucky.  As expected, Big Blue Nation showed up in force and dominated the licensed apparel contest on Bourbon Street and elsewhere in NOLA.  By my count, Kansas and Louisville fans were tied for second followed by Ohio State.

- A Pat O'Brien Hurricane should come with a "one drink limit" warning.

- Much is being made of Jared Sullinger versus Thomas Robinson in game two of today's action.  One, Jeff Withey will guard Sullinger, which will be a very important match-up.  But, the match-up which I think will decide the game is Tyshawn Taylor and Aaron Craft.  In the December meeting between these teams, Taylor had 13 assists and Craft fouled out.

- This is the fifth Final Four to be played in the Superdome, now called the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The view from the Dome--final edition

No one expected this.  The preseason pundits picked Kansas second or third in the Big 12.  Bill Self acknowledged that he thought the Ohio State win, in Lawrence, was big as it would help on KU's tournament resume, meaning he was concerned about the Jayhawks getting into the NCAA Tournament. And, now, Self's team is in the Final Four as the improbable run continues.

Here is a final edition of "the view from the Dome" after this past weekend's Midwest Regional in St. Louis.

- Roy Williams may have been using a throwaway expression but his acknowledgment that the triangle-and-two defense hadn't been used by Kansas was flat-out wrong.  KU used this defense several times during the season  so it was surprising to hear Williams admit his surprise at the Jayhawks' use of this defensive strategy.

- At the end of the first half, Kansas had a lineup which featured Justin Wesley on John Henson and Conner Teahan on Reggie Bullock during North Carolina's last offensive possession.  The Tarheels did not score and the teams went into halftime with the score tied at 47.

- Kansas Governor Sam Brownback was in the crowd, three rows up from midcourt.

- The total announced attendance was 24,107.  It appeared that the Kansas contingent doubled in size, from Friday's game, and comprised about 70-75% of the crowd.

- Williams got visibly upset with assistant coach C.B. McGrath when KU employed the triangle-and-two late in the second half.  McGrath and fellow assistant, Jerod Haase, scouted KU during their game with North Carolina State on Friday night.

- The coolest moment yesterday occurred at the end of the game, when Carolina was fouling and it was obvious that Kansas would win.  Thomas Robinson walked down the court, caught Self's eye, and winked.  It was a great moment between player and coach and emblematic of the special bond between these two.

- Self hugged KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray Little on the court after the game amidst the postgame celebration.

- The drive back to Kansas from St. Louis was a steady stream of thousands of cars headed west.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

More views from the Dome

- The St. Louis Post-Dispatch had a story yesterday about Tyler Zeller of North Carolina.  Zeller is the nephew of Al Eberhard, former University of Missouri great, who recommended that the Indiana high schooler consider his alma mater.  According to Zeller, then MU coach Mike Anderson wasn't interested. "We talked to the coach, but he said I didn't fit into his system," said Zeller.  Really!?

- In the "did you know" category, Kansas Citians may not know or have forgotten that TBS sideline reporter Craig Sager had a stint in the ol' Cowtown early in his career.  Sager started in Ft. Myers, FL and got to know Whitey Herzog, then the manager of the Kansas City Royals.  When an opening came up at a Kansas City TV station, Herzog advocated for Sager.  After his stop in Kansas City, Sager then went on to CNN as a sports reporter and now is celebrating his 32nd anniversary working for Turner Broadcasting.

- Also on Sager, not only is he a clothes horse for all outfits colorful and bright, but he also collects sports memorabilia.  Sager has the sand wedge used by Tom Watson on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach, in the 1982 U.S. Open, when Watson famously holed in from the fringe rough and went on to beat Jack Nicklaus in that unforgettable duel.

- North Carolina and Kansas are in the top four in Sweet 16 appearances.  UNC has 24 such appearances and Kansas has 18.  (Duke and Kentucky are tied at 22.)

- Kansas' NCAA Tournament record, all-time, is now 89-39 over 41 appearances.  The Jayhawks have been to 13 Final Fours, finishing first three times and second five times.  Their overall .693 tournament winning percentage, among teams with 20 or more appearances, trails Duke (35 years - .756), UCLA (44 years - .730), North Carolina (42 years - .724), and Kentucky (52 years - .695.)

- The Jayhawks have been to 23 straight tournaments, the best current streak among tournament teams.  This streak is second only to North Carolina's 27 straight appearances from 1975-2001.

- Tomorrow's Kansas-North Carolina match-up will be the fifth between the schools and the first outside of the Final Four.  The tournament series record is 2-2:  Kansas won in 1991 and 2008 and North Carolina won in 1957 and 1993.

The view from the Dome

Greetings from St. Louis--Gateway to the West; home to the Arch, the Hill and thin crust pizza; and site of the Midwest Regional final on Sunday between Kansas and North Carolina, two of the top three winningest college basketball programs in history.

Here are my observations after a rainy four-hour road trip, east on I-70, with fellow members of Jayhawk Nation and way too many semi-trucks to count:

- The NCAA continues to do all that it can to minimize the fan experience at its events.  Last night's games, in the Edward Jones Dome, had a minimalist scoreboard which showed score, total fouls, time and possession arrow.  There were no foul totals or score totals by player, and precious few replays.

- As expected, the Kansas fan contingent dominated the 23,964 in attendance.  Ohio's small crowd made a lot of noise, as did North Carolina State.  The North Carolina fan group continued its tradition of being "wine and cheese" fans, to borrow a Roy Williams phrase.

- Spotted in the Kansas crowd--Sherron Collins, former assistant coach Tim Jankovich (now at Illinois State) and, as usual, Larry Brown.

- The Morgan Street Brewery in Laclede's Landing hosted the Jayhawk pre-game festivities and was packed.  The rainy weather kept fans inside which was disappointing--it would have been fun to have spilled out into the outdoor areas of this riverfront entertainment area.

- Look for North Carolina to push the action on Sunday, as is their normal routine, in order to tire Kansas.  KU once again will lose the depth battle in this match-up and Williams will try to make fatigue a factor.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Survive and advance

It's trite but it's true--advancing in the NCAA Tournament is about "surviving and advancing."  They don't give out style points in the tournament.  The selection of entrants has long been made so there is little debating about how teams won versus that they won.  Yes, lucky bounces happen...and sometimes cause a win.  At other times, a referee's call makes a huge difference (can you say "Syracuse over UNC Asheville?")  Then, there is the old-fashioned gut check--when a team simply wills itself to victory and finds a way to win.  That happened last night with Kansas.

Elijah Johnson is deservedly getting the credit for stepping up big time and filling the void from the quadruple teaming on Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor's inability to penetrate against Purdue.  Johnson deserves that credit--his late season play is the best of his career and he is showing why he was a five-star recruit coming out of high school.

But, let's point out three other candidates, shall we, for why this game turned in Kansas' favor.

First, little-used Naadir Tharpe came in and spelled Taylor when he picked up two first half fouls.  Tharpe has been a turnover machine all season.  Last night, he canned an unexpected three-pointer and generally took care of the basketball.  Think about the outcome of the game had Tharpe not made his basket.

Next is Kevin Young.  Young has had quality minutes, at times, for the Jayhawks and last night was one of them.  In 13 minutes, Young had seven rebounds (five on the offensive glass.)  It was important that Young produce last night given the odd match-ups being thrown at Kansas.

Finally, let's tip our hat to Bill Self.  Self knows when his team is struggling, when they're tight and when a grind-it-out game is taking shape.  He seems to relish these types of games--one's where his team's toughness is questioned; one where an unlikely hero is made.  Self matched wits with Matt Painter, who did a masterful job in preparing Purdue for this game.  It was Self's move to the triangle-and-two (it sometimes looked like a box-and-one) defense which limited Robbie Hummel to four second half points after scorching KU for 22 in the first half.  He also countered Purdue's substitution patterns with a small lineup as a way to rest Robinson yet also provide match-up problems of a new variety to Painter and the Boilermakers.

This victory is the type of win which KU has had in all but two of its Final Four runs since 1974.  Whether it's Davidson in 2008, Illinois in 2002, New Orleans in 1991 or Murray State in 1988, Kansas has had to survive one of these types of games in order to advance.  And, in every case, their next game was one where they played loose and won big.  Let's hope that happens late on Friday night against North Carolina State.

Survive...and advance.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Friday's hits and misses

"Unprecedented" screams  "M-I-Z O-U-T" reads the Kansas City Star, in a full page headline.  Yep, yesterday was something else--a day of days in the NCAA Tournament.  Let's break down the hits and misses as we winnow down the teams to the round of 32.

Hit:  Over 45,000 entrants, out of 6.45 million, picked Lehigh and Norfolk State to win in brackets on  Who are these people!?

Miss:  Marv Albert, broadcasting with Steve Kerr, consistently butchered player names on the Missouri-Norfolk State telecast.  Albert insisted on calling Matt and Phil Pressey by the last name of "Pressley," and called Marcus Denmon "Denim."

Hit:  It's moments like this which create folk heroes.  And, Kyle O'Quinn of Norfolk State is now this tournament's poster child folk hero.  Not only did Quinn have a monster game against Missouri, he was charming and articulate in the post-game interview.  The other thing I noticed about Quinn was his sportsmanship--always helping up a Tiger who had found the floor and offering a hug to Phil Pressey, who was distraught after MU's upset loss.

Miss:  Alabama's head coach, Anthony Grant, "over-timeouted" at the end of 'Bama's loss to Creighton.  With 4.7 seconds on the clock and the ball in Alabama's half-court, Grant called a timeout after the ball had been inbounded, thus using up about two seconds of valuable time.  Alabama then didn't get a decent look and lost by one.

Hit:  Tim Brando and Mike Gminski were the broadcast stars yesterday.  Brando is a seasoned pro and Gminski's color commentary is insightful.

Miss:  Maybe it's because the NCAA is historically difficult when it comes to activation against a tournament sponsorship but do you notice how many brands (e.g., Allstate, AT&T) simply are slapping on the tournament logo on the end of their commercials?  The only brand who is using a March or tournament thematic in their work is Best Buy, who isn't even an NCAA Corporate Partner.

Hit:  Technically, it's probably not advertising that would be held up as great work, but I can't help but laugh at the "Hopper" commercial for Dish TV.

Miss:  Missouri's upset loss is already all-too-well documented but here's an interesting statistic--the Tigers become the fourth team with 30 or more wins in a season to lose in the round of 64.  The others to do it are Utah State (twice) and Belmont.

Hit:  And, finally, let's just say it--it's painful when your team is the victim of the upset but how fun is it, as a fan, to flip back-and-forth to all of the buzzer beater, low seed-beating-high seed upsets on a day like yesterday?  It's what makes this tournament not only the best sporting event of every year but also makes it so incredibly unfair.  Too much emphasis is placed on the tournament yet it's like watching a train wreck--we can't turn away.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Thursday's NCAA hits and misses

The first full day of action is in the books and day two is underway.  Let's take a look at yesterday's hits and misses.

Hit:  Bill Raftery.  With Gus Johnson no longer doing NCAA tournament telecasts. Raft is the guy who injects the most fun, while being insightful, into the broadcast.  Raftery is always well prepared, knows what he's talking about, but infuses his color commentary with "Raft-isms" which make any game that he's calling enjoyable to watch.

Miss:  Gus Johnson.  Where was Gus when we needed him last night for the call on VCU over Wichita State?  It's a shame that he's no longer working the tournament.

Hit:  Royce White.  Big 12 coaches are smiling this morning because Jim Calhoun experienced what they already knew--Royce White is a match-up nightmare for any team.  White's Iowa State team booted defending national champion Connecticut from the tournament.

Miss:  Andre Drummond is projected on one NBA draft site as the second overall pick.  Are you kidding?  The Connecticut freshman scored two points last night and fouled out against the Cyclones.

Hit:  Kevin Harlan.  Yes, I know I'm not completely objective on this one, given Harlan's residence in Kansas City and his University of Kansas roots, but he's an excellent play-by-play guy.  He was my favorite of yesterday's game announcers.

Miss:  Lesley Visser.  Why, oh why, does CBS insist on putting Visser on the tournament broadcast?  She is painful to watch.

Hit:  The four network lineup worked better  yesterday as the staggering of games, the graphics and the experience between CBS, TBS, TNT and Tru is how this tournament should have long been broadcast managed.  CBS and Turner picked up their overall games compared to last year's tournament.

Miss:  The infusion of NBA talent from Turner onto the NCAA Tournament has its hiccups as witnessed by Reggie Miller insisting that the lane violation call, in Syracuse's win over UNC Asheville, was incorrect.  In college ball, a player cannot move from outside the three point arc, on a free throw, until the ball has hit the rim.

Hit:  Greg Anthony.  Anthony is the most knowledgeable of all of the CBS studio guys.  Let's give a shout-out, as well, to Charles Barkley who dialed up his preparation for this tournament compared to his lack of preparedness last year.

Miss:  Overnight ratings for the Thursday games are down slightly from a year ago.

Hit:  I guess this depends upon your point-of-view, but there was little bracket-busting going on yesterday.  The biggest "upset" was VCU beating Wichita State.

Miss:  The AT&T commercial with the couple at dinner, and he checking his phone, is long past worn out.  And, what's with the gratuitous use of Peter Frampton in the car commercial?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Do guards really make a difference in the tourney?

How many times have we heard about how those teams with strong guard play will fare best in the NCAA Tournament?  Interestingly, can you name the last time a point guard was named the tourney's Most Outstanding Player?

Go back to Mateen Cleaves of Michigan State, in 2000, for the last PG to lead his team to a national title.  Since then, the MOP list is primarily made up of bigs and swing men:  Shane Battier, Duke; Juan Dixon, Maryland; Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse; Emeka Okafor, Connecticut; Sean May, North Carolina; Joakim Noah, Florida; Corey Brewer, Florida; Mario Chalmers, Kansas; Wayne Ellington, North Carolina; Kyle Singler, Duke; and Kemba Walker, Connecticut.

What this list does emphasize is the need for guys who can create their shot, when necessary, to salvage a possession and/or put the ball in the hoop at those critical points in tourney games.  Other than Battier, every player on this list had the ability to take over a game on the offensive end.

Will we see another dominant offensive performer win this tournament's MOP?  Or, will it be a guy who dominates on the defensive end, a la Battier?  If it's the latter, my money's on Anthony Davis of Kentucky.  If it's the former, then I think Harrison Barnes of North Carolina fits the bill.

Help me help you fill out your brackets

What match-ups are keeping you up at nights?  Which eight versus nine seed game is causing you to scour BPIs, Sagarin Indexes and the latest Vegas line?  What do you make of this Fab Memo thing with the 'Cuse anyway?

Let me break down what I see as the hardest selections to make in this 2012 edition of yet more March Madness.  And, you can thank me later.

- If you were a 15 seed, which two seed would you most want to play?  It makes no difference--a 15 has only beaten a two seed on four occasions in this tournament.  So, please, all of you Jayhawk and Tiger fans--enough with the teeth gnashing as you'll advance just fine into the next round of NCAA action.

- The Vegas oddsmakers have Connecticut, a nine seed, and Alabama, another nine seed, projected to beat their eighth seeded opponents, Iowa State and Creighton.  I'm buying the Alabama win; I'm not sure I am sold on UConn whipping the Cyclones.

- Watch out for Memphis--the Tigers are under-seeded as an eight.

- Upset special:  Texas over Cincinnati.

- Best Thursday match-up:  I'm looking forward to New Mexico and Long Beach State--"The Beach" is a good team who makes a habit of playing a tough non-conference schedule while New Mexico is the 20th rated team in the BPI.

- If Florida isn't hitting from outside, they will have a difficult time beating Virginia.  The Cavaliers play a packed in defense and are second in the nation in scoring defense, trailing only Wisconsin.  This is a game where Florida could get frustrated early and struggle.

- Beware of teams who over-achieved in their conference tournament.  This means that picking Florida State to advance beyond a Sweet 16 match-up with Ohio State isn't smart.

- The BPI has St. Louis as the 15th strongest team in the nation.  I'm not buying that and think that Memphis will win by six or more in that eight-nine game.  Yes, I know it's Rick Majerus coaching against the boy wonder, Josh Pastner, but still...

- How do I have the Big 12 teams performing, you ask?  Well, as noted above, I have both Missouri and Kansas advancing to the round of 32 as will Kansas State and Baylor.  I think Texas will upset Cincinnati but that Iowa State will lose a close one to UConn.

Monday, March 12, 2012

All kinds of tournament sub-plots

Every year, the NCAA Tournament starts with sub-plots aplenty.  This year, the Selection Committee not only set up several potential story lines but there are numerous sub-plots simply given the teams involved, where they are playing, and who they might play.

Let's take a look at a few of these interesting stories:

Fathers and sons in the Midwest Regional.  Ray McCallum is head coach at Detroit and his son, former McDonald's All-American Ray McCallum Jr., plays for the Titans.  Likewise, at Creighton, Doug McDermott plays for his dad, Greg.  This regional also features Pat Knight, head coach at Lamar and son of Bob Knight, and John Thompson III, head coach at Georgetown and son of the Hoyas' former coach.  (By the way, Doug McDermott played at Ames, IA High School alongside Harrison Barnes of North Carolina.  And, yes, Barnes and the Tarheels just happen to also be in the Midwest Regional.)

Larry Eustachy returns to the NCAA Tournament.  Eustachy, who resigned at Iowa State after incriminating photos of him partying with college students hit the web, guided Southern Mississippi into the tourney field and will play a former Big 12 foe, Kansas State, in the Golden Eagles' first game.

Kansas and Missouri share the same arena in Omaha.  Kansas and Missouri open tournament play on Friday at the CenturyLink Arena.  That fan interaction will be like having cats and dogs in the same space--don't look for Tiger fans to cheer for the Jayhawks and vice versa.

Mike Brey versus Coach K.  If Notre Dame and Duke both win their first games, Brey will face his former employer, Mike Krzyzewski, in the round of 32.

Kentucky-Duke rematch?  The Kentucky-Duke East Regional in 1992 is regarded as perhaps the best tournament game ever.  Will we get a rematch of these two schools in the South Regional final?

Missouri versus Bradley Beal.  The Tigers will likely face Florida in the second game of the tournament.  Florida is led by Bradley Beal, a former high school standout from St. Louis who took his talents south.

Michigan plays Ohio.  Yes, Ohio--not Ohio State.  I hope the Wolverines don't get confused when they don't see scarlet and grey uniforms on their opening game opponent.

Kansas schools.  The three major universities in Kansas--KU, Kansas State and Wichita State--all made the tournament.  Wichita State stands a strong chance of making the deepest tournament run of the three.

Roy versus Bill, round two?  North Carolina is the one seed in the Midwest and Kansas is the two seed.  Roy Williams once famously spit in the Mississippi River, at a previous St. Louis regional, while coaching at Kansas.  Will the two meet in the Midwest Regional final, once again in St. Louis, so that Williams has a chance to avenge the 84-66 Carolina loss to the Jayhawks in the 2008 Final Four?

Syracuse and Kansas in New Orleans?  Speaking of Williams, if Kansas makes the Final Four, along with Syracuse, the two championship finalists from 2003 would once again play in New Orleans.  It won't be the same, though, without Roy uttering his famous "I don't give a 'crap' about North Carolina" line.  (And, whatever happened to CBS' Bonnie Bernstein anyway?)

Missouri and the Final Four.  Missouri is a 10:1 favorite to win it all, trailing only Kentucky, 7:2, and Ohio State, 5:1.  Is this the year when MU breaks through with a Final Four berth?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Does it get any better than this?

The NCAA Tournament Selection Show is over and now the over-analysis is on full-tilt boogie.  Let's take a look at the draws for the six Big 12 teams which were chosen for the field of 68.

Kansas:  According to the tournament chairman, Kansas was the fifth seed overall.  KU is certainly tested against the tourney field having played Kentucky (1), Duke (2), Ohio State (2), Georgetown (3), Long Beach State (12), South Florida (12) and Davidson (13.)  The opening match-up against Detroit is being touted as a much tougher game than the normal two versus 15 duel.  And, a potential second round game against. St. Mary's is one which makes me shudder.  Overall, I like Kansas' draw as well as the idea of the Jayhawks--hopefully--making the Sweet 16 and playing in St. Louis.

Missouri:  I know Missouri fans won't want to hear this but I think that this is the draw, and the year, which propels MU to the Final Four.  It's well known that Missouri has the most NCAA tournament wins without a Final Four appearance--this is the year that finally changes.  There is no team in the West bracket which gives MU appreciable problems, given their four guard lineup, unless it's Marquette in a Sweet 16 match-up.  I actually think a game against Marquette gives MU more problems than a potential regional final against Michigan State.

Kansas State:  KSU faces the unenviable eight versus nine game and Southern Mississippi.  (The Golden Eagles are coached by former Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy.)  I think the 'Cats advance but will they beat Syracuse?  No.  It'll be one win and done for Frank Martin's team.

Iowa State:  Iowa State also is on that eight-nine line and, like KSU, I like their chances to advance, beating Connecticut and then having to face the one seed.  Kentucky will take down ISU in round three action.

Baylor:  Which Baylor team will show up in the NCAA Tournament--the one which beat Kansas and looked impressive in Kansas City this past weekend, or the under-achieving squad which lost a total of five games against fellow two seeds KU and Missouri?  Baylor should advance but then will likely face a tough UNLV team.  A potential match-up with Duke awaits the Bears in the Sweet 16--a rematch from 2010.

Texas:  The sixth team from the Big 12 is an 11 seed and draws a tough assignment against Cincinnati (six seed) in the Longhorn's first game.  Cincy will win and advance to likely play Florida State.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The view from the Big 12 tournament - final chapter

I suppose it's fitting, this last chapter of the Big 12 postseason tournament with the Missouri Tigers as a participant--the Tigers won the 2012 edition of this tourney by beating a team, Baylor, which came into the league with fellow schools from the old Southwest Conference.  And, that is when the whole conference peace began to unravel.  The University of Texas, in particular, upset the collegiality of the old Big Eight and Nebraska took offense.  The rest, as we all know, is conference realignment history.

Missouri is headed south to the SEC and can claim a postseason tournament trophy as its parting gift.  Some fans took the opportunity to chant "SEC" and Kim English, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, used a postgame interview to emphasize "this (Kansas City) is our town."

Well, Kim, it may be "your town" now but it won't be after this weekend.  Sure, games will be played by Missouri in Kansas City--whether in Sprint Center or in Arrowhead--but it'll be an occasional appearance.  And, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and others won't be there to share the competitive stage or stand alongside your fans in the bars of the P&L District.

No, tonight marked the end of what has been a magnificent ride.  Some of this city's most remembered sports chapters were written by Missouri and its fellow Big Eight, and then Big 12, competitors.  The Kansas City college sports landscape has changed, never to be the same here again.

We can continue to debate the why's and how's but the fact remains, it's over.  Congratulations to Mizzou for a magnificent three-day run.  We didn't get the anticipated, hoped-for rubber match between MU and Kansas and, as Joe Posnanski noted in his blog, that's okay--rematches of that type rarely meet expectations.

No, this was ended perhaps as it should--with the departing school leaving town with a trophy under its arm and the other schools, and host city, waving goodbye...whether with a full hand or an outstretched middle finger, depending upon your personal point-of-view.

The view from the Big 12 tournament - day three

The semi-final round of the Big 12 tournament is in the books so let's look at the hits and misses from yesterday.

Hit:  We have to start with Brady Heslip of Baylor.  Heslip went for three and zero points in the Bears' prior two losses to Kansas.  Last night he hit two huge threes late in a 12 point outing.

Miss:  What is with the red-coated security people who sprint to the foul lines and end lines at each game timeout?  Are they really there to ward off would-be invaders from the stands?

Hit:  Can Kim English miss?  The Missouri senior is 20 of 23 over the two tournament games and has a combined 50 points heading into today's championship game against Baylor.

Miss:  Myck Kabongo is the guard who can't shoot straight.  The Texas freshman makes most of his points on drives to the basket which is good because his outside shot is horrid.

Hit:  Gee, so this is what Baylor would've looked like had they played a man-to-man defense all season?

Miss:  Fans, as in "Iowa State and Kansas State, we miss you."  MU and KU both played last night but the energy in the arena is always buoyed when fans of the Cyclones and Wildcats are in the building.  You know city officials had hoped for a Kansas versus Kansas State and Missouri versus Iowa State set of semi-final matchups.

Hit:  Pierre Jackson of Baylor controlled the tempo for most of last night's game against Kansas.  It was his penetration which led to many of Heslip's baskets.  Jackson's quickness on the perimeter is tough to guard.

Miss:  Finally, what is with media people and their desire to poll so unscientifically?  The latest is columnist Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star who resorted to Twitter to "poll" Kansas and Missouri fans as to whether they wanted a rematch.  Asking the question is one thing; acting like it's valid research is another.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Remember when: Big 6 Holiday Tournament

Long before postseason college hoops tournaments became the cash cows they are now for the various collegiate leagues was the Big Six holiday basketball tournament, held at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.

The conference holiday tournament started in December 1946.  At the beginning, it was a six team tournament held over three days, then grew as the league expanded over the years.  As a kid growing up, the tournament helped fill the void between Christmas and New Year.  What was even better was the access provided by the tournament--players and coaches would stay at the Muehlebach Hotel and then walk through the hotel's and auditorium's underground garage to get to the games in Municipal.  Many was the time I walked in alongside one of my idols from the Kansas Jayhawks, or perhaps next to one of those rivals from Kansas State or Missouri.

Not surprisingly, as the league expanded, coaches from teams other than Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri grew less fond of the collegial setting in Kansas City--they were keenly aware of the fan base advantage of the three local schools.  And, the three local schools not only had fans in Kansas City, they also typically boasted good teams.

There were 33 holiday tournaments and 27 of those titles were won by the three local schools.  There was only one year where KU, KSU or MU didn't play in the championship game--in 1969 Oklahoma beat Colorado for the title.  Ted Owens, former head coach of Kansas, won eight holiday tournament titles; Norm Stewart of Missouri won five; and Tex Winter, of KSU, won four.

In 1977 the Big Eight started a postseason tournament which was the beginning of the end for the holiday tourney.  Coaches didn't like the possibility of playing each other four times in a given year and thus the 1978 tournament became the last holiday event for the league.

This week, with the various activities going on in downtown Kansas City, I am reminded of those holiday tournaments and how the city came alive with the teams and fans who made K.C.  home over those three days.

(Source:  Tournament Town Kansas City, by Blair Kerkhoff)

The view from the Big 12 tournament - session two

It was a full day at Sprint Center with four games at the Big 12 tournament yesterday.  Let's break down yesterday's hits and misses.

Hit:  Perry Jones III.  There was a guy playing for Baylor who looked strangely like the projected NBA lottery pick that many were talking about before the season.  PJIII had 20 points at half and was thoroughly dominant in leading Baylor to an easy win over Kansas State.  This was the Jones that we all expected to be player-of-the-year in the Big 12.

Miss:  Those Baylor uniforms.  Goodness, these duds gave Oregon's football uniforms a run for the money.  At times it looked like five large tennis balls moving around the court.

Hit:  Texas' defense.  It was UT's work on the defensive end which pushed them into a second half lead over Iowa State, which the Longhorns never relinquished.  And, in the process, Texas may have played its way into the NCAA Tournament and given critics even more fodder for why Fred Hoiberg's choice, by Big 12 coaches, as co-coach of the year was a misguided pick versus the more deserving Frank Haith.

Miss:  Why is the entry process into Sprint Center so tedious?  Yes, I understand the desire to "wand" everyone as a security measure, but have more personnel and gates open.  The entry system, in the morning, was very, very backed up.

Hit:  Iowa State's fan base, as usual, showed up in full force and full throat.  It's sad for the Kansas City economy that the Cyclones made an early exit from the tourney.

Miss:  Also making an early exit was Kansas State.  The 'Cats normally vocal fan base seemed oddly subdued yesterday morning.  Perhaps it was the first game, early start blues.

Hit:  Elijah Johnson.  KU's "other" guard went 8-11 from the field and made five of five free throws for a career high 26 points against Texas A&M.

Miss:  The Motel 6 kiss-cam promo on the Sprint Center videoboard is a head-shaker.  Does anyone else find it a bit seamy that the "kiss cam" is sponsored by a motel chain?

And, finally, the biggest miss is the lack of food options that are available in between sessions on the second day of the tournament.  Everyone must leave Sprint Center, in between sessions, and thus seek out places to imbibe in an adult beverage and grab a bite.  There were lines even out of food joints like Chipotle, Consentino's Market and the Whopper Bar/Burger King.  Restaurants which cater to the business lunch crowd didn't stay open which seems a huge miss for downtown Kansas City.  Why not open up "pop up" food establishments for this weekend to help with the demand for food but lack of available and accessible options?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The view from the Big 12 tournament - session one

Here's your roving hoops correspondent's report from last night's session one of the Big 12 Tournament at Sprint Center in Kansas City.

Hit:  The crowd, for games featuring Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, was impressive.  There were plenty of Kansas, Missouri and Kansas State fans in attendance and many were working the concourse, between games, trying to find tickets for today's session.

Miss:  Texas A&M is a train wreck offensively.  The Aggies are better off pushing the action and taking a shot versus getting into a half-court set as, last night, they didn't have one.

Hit:  Pistol Pete, the Oklahoma State mascot, was a huge hit with younger fans.  They were even asking for autographs which prompted my buddy to exclaim "Mascots don't sign autographs!"

Miss:  The Phillips 66 "mascot," Captain Proclean, is a huge miss.  I mean, c'mon--a gas pump as your "mascot!?"

Hit:  Small guys.  It was a battle between 5'9' dynamos for most of the night in game two--OSU's Keiton Page and Texas Tech's Luke Adams.  Page's exploits are well-known by Big 12 fans but Adams is a story in his own right--born nearly deaf and wearing an implant device held by his headband.

Miss:  Travis Ford.  Ford spent nearly the whole game on the playing floor.  There is plenty of sideline at Sprint Center but Ford chose to pace along the sideline and well within the lines of play.  He was never warned to stay on the sideline and within the coach's box.

Hit:  The pregame meal at Grinder's did not disappoint.  For Big 12 fans in search of a great downtown dive, check out the pizza and grinders at this joint on 18th Street between Oak and Locust.  And, be sure to order the tater tots.

Miss:  There's a lot of Kansas City sports radio talk and fan buzz about whether Missouri can claim a one seed in the NCAA Tournament should they win the Big 12 postseason tournament.  One, winning the regular season conference title should be a prerequisite for any one seed (are you listening Duke?) and, two, Missouri's strength of schedule does not hold up--81 overall given the lack of tough non-conference opponents.  (The Tigers are currently 16th in the RPI.)  This isn't about me being a KU homer--it's about rewarding a team for its performance over the course of a season.  If Kansas doesn't quality for a one seed, then it'll likely go to teams such as North Carolina, Michigan State or Ohio State, given that Kentucky and Syracuse seemingly have the first two one seeds locked up.  UNC won the ACC regular season outright and Sparty and OSU tied for the Big Ten title.  Missouri is in line to be a two seed and should qualify unless the Tigers stumble today against Oklahoma State, which isn't likely.

Hit:  Finally, I was reminded by a friend about another tournament locally--the NAIA tourney, which turns 75 next week.  I suggested yesterday that depth plays a big part in winning three games in three days in the Big 12 tournament.  The NAIA tournament is a marathon where the eventual champion must win five games over six days.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The view from the Big 12 Tournament

My seat moves this week from Section 10 in Allen Fieldhouse to a plush, arena perch in the Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City.  Stay tuned here for the latest, not only from the Big 12 event but from around the world of college hoops as we brace for Selection Sunday this weekend.

- Depth is overrated in the NCAA tournament where the in-game commercial breaks stretch an extra minute and teams have a rest day in between games.  Depth, in conference tournaments, is typically a "must have" for any team with a legitimate shot at the title.  For example, in the Big 12, the likely winner will come from the six top seeds with the two finalists playing three games over three days.  Contenders with depth are Kansas State, who has eight players who  average more than 17.5 minutes per game, and Baylor, who has eight guys who played more than 16 minutes per game and two who averaged over 11 minutes per game.  Iowa State has six guys with over 20 minutes per game as does Kansas.  Missouri has six with over 25 minutes per game plus Steve Moore, who averages 16 minutes a game.

- Who could be the break-out player of the tournament?  Pierre Jackson of Baylor is a guy who wants the ball in his hands for the big shot--he shot .453 from three-point land and has a .829 free throw shooting percentage.  Jackson could be an "x" factor for the Bears.

- Day one predictions:  Oklahoma by six over Texas A&M in game one; Oklahoma State by 12, in the late game, against Texas Tech.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Madness--it's beginning

- Is it just me or does the Big East postseason conference tournament have as many games as the Big Dance? Seriously, the hoops festival in New York's Madison Square Garden is the nation's best simply because of where it takes place coupled with the number of games that occur from today through Saturday. It was only a year ago that Syracuse and Connecticut waged their multi-overtime thriller which some felt was the game of the 2010-2011 season.

 - Bill Self's comments about the Big 12 tournament staying in Kansas City has apparently irked some Missouri fans. (Imagine that...) Let's be clear--what Self was publicly lobbying for was that the tournament stay in K.C. even though there will be no Big 12 school located in Missouri. Kansas' 57,000 alums in the Kansas City area, plus Kansas State's 20,000+, provides a built-in fan base. And, the infrastructure is in place--no metro area in the Big 12 region has the facilities, location and volunteer network to compete with Kansas City for this tournament.

 - Frank Haith deservedly was named Big 12 Coach of the Year by the Associated Press. In the coaches' vote, Haith lost out to Self and to Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg, who were named co-Coaches of the Year. Self revealed yesterday, in his press conference, that he voted for Haith. Kansas State's Frank Martin, on Kansas City talk radio, said that he voted for Self. So, assuming that the vote likely went four, four and two for Self, Hoiberg and Haith, how did the other votes likely shake out? I would speculate that the voting blocs lined up as: Self--Martin, Hoiberg, Billy Gillispie (Texas Tech) and Lon Kruger (Oklahoma); Hoiberg--Haith, Scott Drew (Baylor), Travis Ford (Oklahoma State) and Billy Kennedy (Texas A&M); and Haith--Self and Rick Barnes (Texas.) I'm assuming that Barnes would vote for his former assistant and that Drew would vote for anyone other than Self. Here's hoping that someone on K.C. talk radio will ask Haith the same question whenever he gets interviewed in the next day or two.

 - VCU is back in the tournament, a year after making a Final Four run. Shaka Smart's team looked like it might be on the outside looking in, on Selection Sunday, but beat top-seeded Drexel in the Colonial Athletic tournament to gain the automatic bid.

 - The most intriguing early round game in the Big 12 tournament will be Kansas State against Baylor on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. The Wildcats split their series with Baylor, losing late by two at home and winning in Waco. Baylor is a talented, deep team that under-achieved in the regular season--the Bears have the potential to win the Big 12 tournament and make a deep run in the NCAA tourney. Kansas State will be playing for seeding in the Big Dance as well as a potential semi-final match-up with Kansas. The early games in the tournament are always difficult to predict given the start time coupled with crowds which aren't as boisterous as later in the day.

 - I get that the Big 12 coaches named him the sixth man of the year. But, how does Michael Dixon not even merit selection to the second or third team All Big 12 in the coaches' balloting?

 - Kansas once again finished the Big 12 regular season with the best field goal percentage defense in the league--.382. That stat, which Kansas annually wins, is the biggest reason why the Jayhawks have won eight straight conference titles.

 - Name the only Big 12 team who has a winning record against Kansas in the Big 12 postseason tournament. You can't, you say? Why, it's Baylor, which has a 1-0 record against the Jayhawks in the tournament. The only time these two teams have met was in the 2009 tournament in Oklahoma City, OK. Yes, 2009--the same team to which these current Jayhawks are most often compared.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Big 12 awards

Who saw this coming? Missouri, with new coach and injured starter, resided in the top ten for much of the regular season. Kansas, which some predicted as low as fourth in the league, won its eighth straight conference title, posting 16 Big 12 wins in the process. Iowa State, under second year coach Fred Hoiberg, ascended to the third spot in the league race. And, Baylor, with Perry Jones III underachieving, lost twice to Kansas and Missouri, plus a last game loss to Iowa State, thus pushing them to fourth place in the regular season conference standings.

How do we make sense of this surprising season? Let's try, shall we--here are our Big 12 awards.

Player of the Year: Thomas Robinson, Kansas. I'm hard-pressed to pick Robinson over his running mate Tyshawn Taylor but what edges this in T-Rob's favor is how defenses stacked to defend him throughout the season. Only seven points separated Taylor and Robinson in their scoring over the course of the Big 12 season, thus demonstrating how equal they were in conference play. Robinson had 12 double-doubles during the Big 12 season and had monster games against Baylor (27 and 14), Missouri (25 and 13), Missouri (28 and 12) and Texas (25 and 14.)

Coach of the Year: Frank Haith, Missouri. Here's another close race and it's hard for me to pick against Bill Self of Kansas--a coach who took a team with a short bench and a former walk-on as the sixth man and guided them to the most conference victories--16--in school history. (That ties the 2002 team's undefeated Big 12 conference record.) Yet, Haith overcame the adversity of his controversial hiring, the loss of Laurence Bowers, and an under-sized lineup and taught his team to play unselfish, disciplined basketball. Under Haith's guidance, Kim English seemed re-born on the basketball court and the Tigers' four-guard lineup gave other teams match-up fits. Raise your hands--how many of you predicted the Tigers as a top five team for any part of the regular season? Yeah, I didn't think so...

All Big 12 Team: Robinson, Kansas; Taylor, Kansas; Marcus Denmon, Missouri; Royce White, Iowa State; and Michael Dixon, Missouri.

Sixth Man: Dixon of Missouri. Dixon had a habit of coming off the bench and dominating games. He wasn't afraid to take big shots and was relentless, always seeming to play with a chip on his shoulder.

Best Interview: Kim English, Missouri. English is articulate, opinionated and is someone you want to follow on Twitter. Runner-up: Bill Self, Kansas. The media loves Self and here's why--he doesn't deal in coach-speak, is accommodating and is brutally honest.

Five-Hour Energy guy: Keiton Page, Oklahoma State. I wish I'd said this but I'll have to credit my son--Page is a guy who looks like he swigged four Five Hour Energy drinks before the game--he never stops moving on the court, coming off screens and hitting fadeaway three-pointers. The undersized native son of Oklahoma is fun to watch.

Biggest disappointment: Perry Jones III, Baylor. It may not be fair to label Jones a disappointment, given the quality of kid he is both on and off the floor, but he too often disappeared in games. And, when the Bears most needed him--in the Missouri and Kansas games--Jones did not look like an NBA lottery pick. (Get this--Jeff Withey of Kansas and Ricardo Ratliffe of Missouri scored 52 points, total, on Jones in their visits to Waco.) Runner-up: Texas A&M. Many predicted that A&M would win the league. They come to Kansas City next week as the nine seed.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Catching up on the world of college hoops

It's March and thus it's officially time for March Madness! This week marks the end of the regular season for the major conferences with post-season conference tournaments set to begin next week.

- Jack Harry of KSHB-TV, Kansas City, claims to be the victim of Kansas fans who are calling him on his outrageously negative pre-season rant about KU's fortunes in Big 12 basketball. Harry, now famously, said that KU would not finish in the top five in the league and that Kansas fans think it's their "birthright" to win the league. In his rant, Harry called the fans "beakers," and has previously used language like "Bucknell Bill" (for head coach Bill Self, citing his loss to Bucknell in the NCAA Tournament in 2005.) Harry also has previously taken on the Kansas football program, suggesting, during the 2011 season, that the school should drop the sport. What Harry seems to forget is that "with great power comes great responsibility." He has used his bully pulpit to tweak and/or anger Kansas fans. While no one should get vitriolic, Harry's indignation at fans now calling him on his behavior is disingenuous. You made your bed, Jack...

- Who will be the top four seeds in the NCAA Tournament, come Selection Sunday on March 11? According to, here are the current RPIs for the top-rated teams: 1. Syracuse (.6730), 2. Kentucky (.6671), 3. Duke (.6661), 4. Michigan State (.6623), 5. North Carolina (.6568), 6. Kansas (.6490), 7. Marquette (.6378), 8. Ohio State (.6343), 9. Baylor (.6316), and 10. Wichita State (.6314.) Missouri is #12 at .6283; Kansas State is #42 at .5861.

- Many observers call this Bill Self's best coaching job at Kansas since he took the post-NCAA title team of 2008-2009 and guided them to a Big 12 championship. That team, like this year's squad, only lost two games in conference and won the title outright. However, that '09 team didn't win 16 games total, given the scheduling rotation then, and featured a supporting cast for Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich which included Brady Morningstar, Tyrell Reed, Mario Little, and freshmen Tyshawn Taylor, Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris.

- Lost in the hubbub about the coaching jobs at Kansas, Missouri and Iowa State is Frank Martin at Kansas State. If Martin's Wildcats win at home on Saturday versus Oklahoma State, this will be the fifth straight season of nine or more conference wins in Manhattan as well as 20 or more wins total. Martin's records in conference are 10-6 (3rd), 9-7 (T-4th), 11-5 (T-2nd) and 10-6 (T-3rd.) KSU is currently 8-7.

- The Sporting News predicted, in their preseason publication, that the Big 12 race would finish as follows: 1. Baylor, 2. Kansas, 3. Missouri, 4. Texas A&M, 5. Oklahoma State, 6. Texas, 7. Kansas State, 8. Iowa State, 9. Oklahoma, and 10. Texas Tech. Using that prediction, the biggest surprise has to be Iowa State. The biggest disappointment is Texas A&M, currently tied with Oklahoma for eighth.

- Kansas fans will be treated to Jim Cornelison's rendition of the national anthem on Saturday night versus Texas in Allen Fieldhouse. Cornelison sings the anthem at Chicago Blackhawk games where the tradition is to cheer, full-throated, throughout his singing of the "Star Spangled Banner."