Thursday, February 23, 2017

Yeah, but... (on Kansas' streak of 13)

The Kansas Jayhawks beat TCU on Wednesday night, assuring KU of their 13th straight Big 12 conference championship, tying the program with UCLA's streak of 13 straight in 1967-79. Yet, for the past week I've been hearing many talking heads and others pulling out their "yeah, but..." arguments.

So, in an attempt to be as objective as possible, let's see if this writer (who, in full disclosure, has witnessed approximately 90 of those conference games in Allen Fieldhouse during the streak) can take a crack at answering the skeptics.

"Yeah, but...the Big 12 is a weak league"

This argument is the easiest to debunk. During the 13 year streak, the Big 12 has had the #1 conference RPI on four occasions, has been #2 three times and #3 twice.

Coaches in the league during Kansas' run have included dudes named Bob Knight, Bob Huggins, Tubby Smith, Lon Kruger, Rick Barnes, Shaka Smart, Bruce Weber and Kelvin Sampson, all who took or have taken teams to the NCAA Final Four during their careers.

The Big 12 has consistently been a tough basketball league.

"Yeah, but...KU played in the Big 12's North Division, which was weak"

Be careful, my friend.

Back in the day when the Big 12 had two divisions, the South dominated (tongue planted firmly in cheek) the North at a 271-269 clip. In other words, there was no major difference between the winning percentages of the two divisions.

Kansas was 128-22 (85.33%) against their colleagues in the North, and 73-17 (81.11%) against teams in the South in the years when there were two divisions. In contrast, Texas was 55-35 (61.11%), Oklahoma State was 53-37 (58.89%) and Oklahoma was 48-42 (53.33%) against the North.

The bottom line is that Kansas did not gain a major advantage by playing schools from the North twice and schools from the South once during a season.

"Yeah, but...Kansas has tied for a share of the title on four occasions"

Guilty as charged. The four shared titles came in 2005 (Oklahoma), 2006 (Texas), 2008 (Texas) and 2013 (Kansas State.)

In '05, Kansas lost in Norman to Oklahoma and did not have a rematch in the Big 12 Tournament, marking the only time in this streak where KU did not beat the team that it tied for the crown.

Texas tied Kansas in '06 and '08, beating the Jayhawks both of those years in Austin. KU rebounded in 2006 to beat Texas in the championship game of the Big 12 Tournament in Dallas. In 2008, the same happened, only this time in Kansas City at the tournament.

"Yeah, but...Kansas has under-achieved in the NCAA Tournament during these 13 years"

Okay then, go ahead and change the topic and the argument. But, if you want to go there, here's the data:
- Kansas has a 27-11 record in the past 13 NCAA Tournaments, or a 71% winning percentage.
- The Jayhawks have a national championship and a national championship game appearance during that span.
- Only Duke, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Gonzaga have made every NCAA Tournament, like Kansas, during the past 13 seasons. The records: Duke = 26-10/72%; Michigan State = 27-12/69%; Wisconsin = 23-12/66%; Gonzaga = 15-12/56%.

For every Bucknell, Bradley and Northern Iowa is someone else's Lehigh, Mercer and Middle Tennessee. In other words, Duke and Michigan State have had early round flameouts too.

"Yeah,'s John Wooden!"

In reality, it's not. UCLA's streak of 13 straight league titles in 1967-79 featured three coaches - Wooden, Gene Bartow and Gary Cunningham.

The college game in 1967-79 was different than today and thus it's hard to compare the two streaks. UCLA played in the then Pac 8 conference (formerly the Athletic Association of Western Universities until 1968) along with USC, Cal, Washington, Stanford, Washington State, Oregon and Oregon State. Arizona and Arizona State would join in 1978 to make it the Pac 10.

Scholarship numbers were different in the 1960's and '70s compared to today and, of course, the NCAA Tournament was different as well - the expansion to 68 teams would not occur until 2011. (In contrast, the tournament during the 1967-79 stretch was comprised of 22-25 teams and expanded to 32 in 1975.)

One thing remains that will not be duplicated - eight national titles for UCLA during the 13-year span from 1967-79.

"Yeah, but..."

No more "buts." The streak of 13 straight shared or outright conference championships is a feat that is unprecedented in modern day American sports. And, what's perhaps even more amazing is a Kansas streak that rarely gets mentioned - KU now has been to the NCAA Tournament for 28 straight years (counting this season). No other school in NCAA Tournament history has accomplished that level of consistency, much less at the marquee level of Kansas - 11 times a 1 seed, seven times a 2 seed and three times a 3 seed, during this 28 year span. (The lowest seed was an 8 in 2000.)

In a time when everyone focuses on March Madness, my hope is that the magnitude of this accomplishment - winning a tough league over the course of an 18-game schedule - can be appreciated not only by those in the Big 12 but nationally as well.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Best KU guard ever?

I was in one of those email discussions recently and the topic was pretty compelling (at least for me) - where does Frank Mason rank among the best all-time guards in the modern era at the University of Kansas?

Hmm, there are a lot of options to fuel that debate! I dug into the archives and decided to make this as fact-based as possible using the following criteria (in no particular order):

- Where does the player rank on all-time scoring, assists and steals lists at Kansas? To a lesser degree, where do they rank on the all-time three-point list? (The caveat on this latter criteria is that guys like Jo Jo White and Darnell Valentine, who both played prior to 1986-87, did not have a three-point line to beef up their scoring totals.)
- Did the player reach a Final Four?
- Did the player reach a National Championship game?
- Was the player on a team that won a National Championship?
- Postseason honors, e.g., All-Conference, All-American
- And, of course, the intangibles - did the player have a propensity to make the big shot, the game-changing steal, etc.

Here (drumroll please) is the list - the best Kansas Jayhawk guards in the modern college basketball era.

1. Sherron Collins. Collins was a two-time All-American, engineered one of KU's greatest comebacks ever (versus Texas in the 2007 championship game of the Big 12 Tournament in Oklahoma City) and arguably hit the second most important shot in recent Kansas history with his three during the comeback in San Antonio over Memphis in 2008. Collins also made the huge steal versus Memphis that led to his three-point shot. And, he's been acknowledged as perhaps the best team leader in the Bill Self era. Collins won a national championship in '08 and is the all-time leading scorer for guards in KU's illustrious basketball history.

2. Mario Chalmers. The shot. Mario's Miracle. While known for making the biggest shot in Kansas history in the 2008 national championship game, he had his share of other huge games and shots during his three years at Kansas. He had huge games versus Texas in the conference tournament championship games in 2006 and 2008; he's second all-time on the steals list and seventh on the three-point list. His jersey hangs in the Allen Fieldhouse rafters.

3. Jo Jo White. White was an All-American at Kansas and is in the Naismith Hall of Fame. He had a short career at Kansas, given his transfer status, where he led the team in scoring in 1968. He was part of perhaps the biggest heartbreak story in KU history when the Jayhawks lost to Texas Western in a regional final in 1966. (White made a game winning shot but it was ruled that his foot was out of bounds prior to the basket.) His jersey hangs not only in the Phog but also in Boston Garden.

4. Darnell Valentine. The only thing Valentine didn't do was go to a Final Four. He led the team in scoring for three years, is KU's all-time free throw leader, is the school's all-time steals leader and is fifth in assists. He was a four-time all-Big 8 selection and an All-American. He only trails Collins for most points by a guard at Kansas (in an era with no three-point line) and his jersey also hangs in the fieldhouse. One more thing - the guy was an Academic All-American.

5. Kirk Hinrich. Two Final Fours, could play both point guard and off guard, was a terrific defender, and had a late game block in 2003 against Arizona that was the deciding play in the West Regional Final. Hinrich is third in all-time three pointers, fourth in assists and sixth in steals. He ranks third in all-time scoring by a guard at Kansas.

6. Frank Mason. Mason is sixth, with a bullet, on this list and is the only guy in this esteemed group who has his own Twitter hashtag (#BIFM.) He may end up as Kansas' first consensus Player of the Year in the modern era and will certainly be a consensus first team All-American for this season. Lightly recruited, Mason shares many of the same leadership and will-to-win qualities as the guy who's number one on this list.

7. Jacque Vaughn. This Academic All-American was the best leader of the Roy Williams era at Kansas. He's second all-time in assists, an All-American and a great on ball defender. Sadly, Vaughn never made a Final Four.

8. Kevin Pritchard. Pritchard may be a surprise at number eight but consider this - he's fourth in all-time scoring by Kansas guards, led the team in scoring in 1990, is 12th all-time in three-pointers and has a national championship (1988). That's not a bad resume.

9. Tyshawn Taylor. An under-appreciated guard given his sometimes loony off-court behavior, Taylor was an incredibly athletic guard who was a very good on-ball defender. He could, at times, take over a game offensively given his ability to get to the rim and finish. He turned into a very good shooter by the end of his career and, with Thomas Robinson, led his team to the national championship game in 2012. He's sixth all-time in assists and fifth all-time in points by a guard.

10. Aaron Miles. Miles it the best assist man on this list and is third all-time in steals at Kansas. And, he went to two Final Fours.

11. Rex Walters. A deadly shooter and a guy who loved taking the big shot. Walters isn't as good a defender as others on this list; went to a Final Four in 1993.

12. Adonis Jordan. Walters' partner-in-crime and the guy who sports the best name on this list. He's sixth all-time in points by KU guards and eighth in three-pointers. He went to Final Fours in 1991 and 1993.

There you have it - the best dozen guards in Kansas history since the mid-1960s. Who did I leave off? How about guys like Wayne Selden, Dale Greenlee, Tony Guy, Tom Kivisto, Jeff Boschee, Elijah Johnson, Jerod Haase and Calvin Thompson? Like I said, there's a lot of options here to discuss.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Putting 10 defeats in context

If you're a fan of college hoops, you've heard the stat all too often - Bill Self has more conference titles at the University of Kansas than he does home defeats. And, after the Jayhawks' home loss yesterday, that stat still holds true.

Let's dig into the amazing winning record at Allen Fieldhouse during Self's tenure there:

- Self has 10 losses at Allen Fieldhouse as head coach at Kansas; Scott Drew has 10 losses at Allen Fieldhouse as head coach at Baylor.
- Kansas has only lost six conference games at home in the Self era. Iowa State has done it twice and both times in overtime - February 19, 2005 and February 4, 2017.
- The Jayhawks should be wary of the Saturday prior to Super Bowl - in 2007, they lost to Texas A&M on that day; in 2013, they lost to Oklahoma State on Super Bowl Saturday; and they lost yesterday to Iowa State.
- There are two years when Kansas has lost twice at home, but not the same season - in 2005 (Iowa State and Nevada) and 2006 (Kansas State and Oral Roberts.)
- Only twice has Kansas lost two home games in the same season under Self - in 2005-2006 to Nevada and Kansas State, and in 2006-2007 to Oral Roberts and Texas A&M.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Is the sports TV bubble bursting?

There was quite a bit of discussion a week or so ago when it was revealed that 88 of the 100 most-viewed shows on television in 2016 were live sports telecasts and seven more were live TV events (can you say "debates?") Regular season NFL games took 49 spots out of the top 100 and the NFL Playoffs accounted for 11 more, including six of the top 10. Yet, there are troubling signs with the 900 pound TV gorilla - the NFL - and its ratings decline last year.

Average NFL viewership in 2016 dipped by 8% overall even though ratings didn't decline quite that much over the final two months of the season. And, in response, the NFL is putting a lot on the table to discuss and potentially change.

Potential changes in the way the NFL broadcasts its games include:
- Testing four longer commercial breaks rather than five shorter ones in an attempt to speed up the game.
- Using a double box to show a commercial along with live footage from the stadium in an attempt to keep viewer eyeballs' on the TV screen.
- And, NFL Films is conducting focus group research with different break patterns and such in order to gauge viewer reaction.

The decline in sports programming ratings is happening. Yet, how big is the problem? Of the top 100 programs, the only non-sports telecasts were the Presidential Debates or live events like The Oscars or The Grammys. The non-live programs that dented the top 100? Checking in at #60 is "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" (which has a huge asterisk as it aired following Super Bowl 50.) NCIS was #81 and #93.

We'll continue to hear about ratings declines for the NFL, NASCAR, college football and other sports programming but, for advertisers, there is still gold in live programming and the engaged viewers that these telecasts deliver. If the bubble is bursting, there's still quite a bit of air left.