Month: March 2009

(Bitter) Sweet Sixteen

This probably needs more editing, but it’s almost 10 pm Monday night and I should probably get it posted. And I have a cold, so I might do more damage than help to it if I start hacking.

This is the least angsty, upset, depressed I’ve ever been after a season-ending loss. You know most of the reasons; I’ve been repeating them all season. But I think actually being at the game helped, too. It’s hard to be pissed off, pout, or just go into a shell when you’re with friends and have to navigate through tens of thousands of people to get home.

The Game

That game was right there for the taking, despite KU only playing well for perhaps 10 minutes all night. Offensively, I should say. I thought we were fantastic most of the night on defense, even when Michigan State made their runs. The keys to the game were:
1 – No offensive flow from KU. Once MSU took away the run-outs on our defensive rebounds, we struggled to score.
2 – Better offensive options for MSU. The Spartans have insanely balanced scoring, lacking a true stud but instead featuring a roster full of guys who can easily put 10-12 points up. You could see that their players had confidence taking shots.
3 – The deer in the headlights of our young guys. Brady Morningstar had a couple nice dunks (ever think you’d hear that?), but totally lost confidence in his shot two weeks ago. It’s nice that he didn’t go Jerod Haase on his teammates and decide to shoot them out of the game with a 2-20 performance, but refusing to take a shot may have hurt just as much. Tyshawn Taylor hit four huge free throws, and had a nice runner that dropped. Otherwise, I thought he was awful. Dribbling right into defenders. Throwing passes that Cole Aldrich either couldn’t catch, or that put him in a position where he couldn’t make a scoring move. It was the old Third Scoring Threat bugaboo.

Still, it all came down to two rebounds. First was the triple offensive rebound possession, when Michigan State had three chances to score and finally got a three point play on their final shot. Watching the replay, Cole Aldrich was in perfect position for rebound #3, but he shifted toward the center of the lane as the shot went up…and the rebound went to the spot he had been standing, right into Goran Suton’s hands. Then, on the only free throw MSU missed all night, they corralled the long rebound and scored. Two six point possessions that were back-breakers. Both could have been avoided with a defensive rebound.

There were far too many empty possessions on offense, though. My friend who was sitting with me, who is an IU alum, kept saying he thought KU was going to win. Even when we went +5 with three minutes left, I didn’t feel comfortable because we were having so much trouble getting the ball to and into the hoop.

In the end, it was a stinging loss. I say stinging because it should bother all the players over the summer. They should be obsessed with the plays they didn’t make, their poor decisions, their lack of poise, and those should be the building blocks for their summer workouts and preparations for next season. It’s the kind of loss that can be perfect for a young team, if they learn from it.

While the final margin and flow of the game was different, it reminds me of KU’s loss to Illinois in the 2001 Sweet 16. Illinois pushed the young Jayhawks around all night and at the end, it was the older, tougher, more experienced team that got the win. (It helped that Illinois’ coach ran strategic circles around KU’s that night. What ever happened to that guy?) Hinrich, Gooden, and Collison used that loss as the springboard to two straight Final Fours (One for Gooden).

The Seats

Lucas Oil Stadium is a beautiful building. Our seats were pretty spectacular. We were even with the baseline, opposite the KU bench, 18 rows off the floor. Now it is a football stadium, of course, so the view wasn’t ideal since we were in temporary seats. But I can’t complain at all. It was nice that each corner of the stadium features large video boards, so if your view is suddenly blocked, you look up and there’s the action. I’m hoping my guy that got me the seats can hook me up again next year should KU be fortunate enough to play an NCAA game in Indianapolis.

We did run into the age-old issue of standing up and sitting down every 30 seconds. The people in front couldn’t decide what they wanted to do, and it filtered up and down from their choices.

No beer at NCAA games is a shitty thing. Especially in a game that close. Then again, if a piece of pizza was $8, I might have emptied out my bank account had there been beer to purchase.

There was an insane number of Louisville fans there. They got to be pretty annoying with their stupid spelling cheers and waving fingers in the shape of L’s and dancing in the aisles.* It didn’t help that Pitino was screaming at his guys to press when they were up by 30 and the people two rows in front of us were celebrating every single steal and shot at that point like they had just gone Scottie Reynolds on Arizona.

(Rule of college fandom #17: all chants, cheers, and songs of other schools are stupid while yours kick ass.)

The Future

I think we’ll know about Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins’ plans for next year soon. Or at least part of those plans. I expect both to declare for the draft. Now whether they both stay in the draft is another issue. I discount all statements made immediately after a season-ending loss, so nothing I’ve been reading about their wishes to come back has weight with me. We’ll see in a couple more weeks.

Cole has the more interesting decision. His name is rocketing up the mock draft charts, and it’s becoming less clear what his move should be. The lottery is generally the threshold I use: if you’re a lottery pick, go. If it’s uncertain, stay. He’s getting in that range where some people now have him in the lottery, others just outside. If he’s a lock to go in the mid to late teens, I say come back and expect to be one of the top five picks next year. If he can sneak into the top ten this year, I think you take that money and run.

Sherron, on the other hand, is battling different issues. I think pride is the biggest factor in his decision making process. He was a highly touted high school prospect who most expected to be on campus for only a couple of years. Now he’s in danger of actually spending four years in college. Can he deal with that? The knock on him is he’s short, not a great playmaker, and has injury issues but is a proven scorer and a warrior on the court. When he hears that, and looks at how few 5’11” guards there are in the NBA, what will he do? I don’t think his stock goes up that much next year, even if he has a huge year and leads KU deeper into the tournament. So, then does he go play in Europe next year? Or go ahead and do the fourth year and see what happens?

So let’s assume for a minute both come back. KU currently has two high school players and a transfer coming in next season. Rampant internet rumor is that an extremely talented high school player will be committing to KU in the next few days. If he indeed does commit, that puts KU two over the scholarship limit for next season. Expect Brady Morningstar to return to walk-on status to clear one. That means someone else needs to leave if both Sherron and Cole return. Final assumption, it will be someone who played limited minutes this year that departs.

That leaves a rotation that includes Sherron, Tyshawn Taylor, unnamed high school Blue Chipper, a Morris to be named later, and Aldrich as the starters, with Morningstar, Mario Little, freshman Elijah Johnson, Tyrel Reed, another Morris, freshman Thomas Robinson, and transfer Jeff Withey. Assuming a normal rate of improvement for this year’s freshmen and merely a nominal contribution from the newcomers, that’s a pretty solid lineup. Certainly the favorite in the Big 12, with both OU and MU losing a lot (OU could get wiped out if both Griffin and Warren leave). Good enough to come back in Indy next April.

If Sherron and/or Cole leave, though, it’s suddenly another rebuilding year again. Lots of talent, but no established star to lead the team.

Fin

I told my friend who sat with me that I just wanted KU to play well, win or lose. It’s easy to dwell on how your team stunk it up when they go out of the tournament, but it does seem like KU has generally flamed out instead of played hard and just come up short. There are things you can look at Friday and drive yourself crazy with “What Ifs?” So sure they missed a rebound here and there, had some empty possessions on offense, and missed a key free throw that could have changed the outcome. But it wasn’t one of those miss 13 free throws and lose by three (2003), miss 19 shots within five feet of the basket (2007), or have your shooting guard literally shoot you out of the game (1995, 1996) type of losses. It was a toss-up game where the other team got the breaks when it mattered most. Michigan State won the game as much as KU lost it. And it’s hard to be too upset about that after all else this team accomplished this season.

And I kind of love Tom Izzo, which makes it a little easier than losing to a Pitino or Kyrzyzswzyszwski.

The near future is uncertain. Next year could become an unplanned rebuilding year if both Sherron and Cole leave. But as we learned this year, at KU we don’t rebuild. We just play.

Rock Chalk, bitches.

This Week With Casey

A brief American Top 40 The 80s update.*

(Don’t worry, an extensive basketball post is coming.)

This week’s show was from 1981, making it the first repeat year countdown since I began listening in January. It was fun to track where songs I heard six weeks ago were in the latest chart. At least for this amateur music historian.

Two things struck me.

First, I have no memory of Blondie’s “Rapture” when it was on the charts. None. My first memories of the song come from the late 80s when Yo! MTV Raps first aired and they gave the song its proper respect as one of the first moments that hip-hop entered the mainstream. That’s odd because A) it was a top five single and B) I have specific music memories about just about everything from the early 80s. I can tell you what we were listening to on my friend’s brother’s boombox while playing kickball in the street in 1983 (Sammy Hagar’s “Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy.”) but I don’t remember “Rapture”? Makes no sense. I wonder if they didn’t play it in Kansas City because it was too edgy.

Second, long-time readers will recall the story of me staying up for hours to hear R.E.O. Speedwagon’s “Keep On Lovin’ You” back in ’81. Turns out that was almost exactly 28 years ago, which is scary. Anyway, this week’s countdown was the first week that song took over the #1 spot. What song did it knock out of the top spot? John Lennon’s “Woman.” Suddenly that night of flipping back-and-forth to hear it makes me feel very dirty.

Times Change

There’s a slew of stories about the 1979 NCAA title game right now. Linked below is the one that appears in today’s Indy Star. My favorite quote is clipped as well, and it’s one that appears in some form in most of the articles, books, and specials about the game. I like it because it reminds us of how much the world and sports has changed in the past 30 years.

“An old teammate at Denver called me,” Heaton recalled. “He couldn’t believe Larry Bird was a white.”

Earlier this week I linked to the NYT Magazine cover story about a 12-year-old basketball player. If you follow college basketball, chances are you can rattle off the names of a few high school players your favorite team is recruiting. If you’re a serious fan, you probably know a lot more about those recruits than just their names. And when a phenom comes along, we get immediate information overload about the kid.

But 30 years ago, there were people who didn’t know Larry Bird was white until the final regular season game of his senior year. I think that’s kind of awesome.

Expanding on that, when Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks had that crazy scoring run in February, it made me think of when I first started following basketball in the late 70s. Back then it seemed like all the really good teams had one awesome player, and he was all you heard about.* And then there were guys like Meeks, who weren’t on great teams, but poured in points every night. The stars and the scorers all seemed larger than life.

(I lived in southeast Missouri at the time, so Kentucky’s Kyle Macy was the first guy I remember who stood on that pedestal.)

(One of the three over-the-air TV stations in the area was from Paducah, KY, thus the UK coverage.)

Some of that was certainly just being a kid, discovering the game, and having limited access to information. But, a lot of it was also due to the same conditions that hid the fact Larry Bird was white from a significant part of the country. There was one college game on TV each weekend. There was no 24 hour sports news network. There was hardly any live, local TV coverage of college games for that matter. So most likely what your local evening news carried was a list of the local and ranked teams’ scores without any highlights. Same for your paper, which was also unlikely to have pictures attached to the capsules for out-of-town games.

We live in the golden age of sports coverage, where the internet and cable/satellite dishes can let any fan nearly anywhere follow their favorite teams from around the globe. But there’s also less mystery about the games and the players, and through that, perhaps less romanticism and legend involved.

Unintentional Neglect

Another for my Father Of The Year file.

A few set up points to begin this story.

First, C. has lost all interest in potty training over the past month. She had been using the toilet once a day or so but lately not at all.

Second, L. woke up around 5:30 Thursday morning, and after a bottle and diaper change was wide-awake and ready to play rather than ready to go back to sleep for a couple more hours.

So, the remainder of Thursday involved me attempting to keep M. and C. in one part of the house while I worked to get L. to nap in another part. After a couple 20-30 minute mini-naps, L. finally conked out on my around 1:00 pm. She ended up sleeping on me for a little over an hour while the big sisters, I thought, played nicely in the front room. At some point C. went running into the laundry room. These days that often means that she is going to close the door behind her and load up her diaper. This time, though, I heard her throw something in the wastebasket and then run back out to where she and M. were playing.

I thought that was a little odd, but didn’t think it was worth waking the baby up to investigate.

A few minutes later, I heard C. crying. Usually that means M.’s messing with her in some way, but I didn’t hear M.. Also, C. usually comes in to where I am if she starts crying, but she remained out of the room. The crying ended soon enough, so again I chose to stick to the couch with the baby.

Sometime after 2:00 L. woke up and I walked around to see what had been going on. M. was playing nicely in the entryway building things with Legos. I looked into the bathroom and found C. sitting on her potty. Completely naked. Shivering and crying.

Turns out she decided to unilaterally get back on the potty training bandwagon. She stripped down (why she had to take all her clothes off I don’t know), removed her pull-up (which was what she had run into the laundry room and thrown away), and sat down and peed. Then, she sat and waited for at least 30 minutes for someone to come wipe her and put clothes back on her. Making the picture perfect were her little dress-up princess high heels that were placed right next to her.

I wiped her, got her some warm clothes, and complimented her profusely for using the potty like a big girl. I also let her and M. both know that it was ok to come tell me they needed to use the potty if the baby was sleeping, as long as they did it quietly.

In the end C. was very happy. She got lots of hugs and kisses, another sticker on her potty chart, and after dinner we went out and got milkshakes. I just hope the 30 minutes of cold and confusion hasn’t pushed back the potty training window even further.

Postscript: That was Thursday. C. hasn’t gone near a potty since then. She did go into the bathroom at Panera tonight when S. took M., but when I asked her if she went too, she just said, “Dere’s a changing table to change babies’ diapers in dere.”

Sweetness

In March, there are no beauty points, nor any to reason to apologize for advancing. Nor does the regular season, comparing scores and schedules, RPI-based method of deciding who is better come into play. The team that looks awesome one night puts up a dud the next and gets sent home. Winning ugly is better than the alternative.

To say this was one of KU’s least impressive performances in recent tournaments would be fair. But it was still good enough to win two games and send them to the Sweet 16.

After the win Friday, I said I would be fine with any result after that. Getting an NCAA win was the final piece of this year’s puzzle. The final validation was beating a pesky 14 seed, and no matter what rival fans or people who just like to kick you when you’re down might say should the Jayhawks have fallen in the round of 32, it would have been a great year.

Now, though, they get to keep playing. I think I write every year that the Sweet 16 is my favorite week of the tournament. Assuming you make it, of course. There’s still work to be done, but the odds start to get better. You’ve already won two games. Why not win two more? And then two more after that? The big task seems far less daunting. It’s still wide open, but we’ve narrowed the picture a bit. Everyone left is a legitimate contender. It’s a fun week.

Not that I’m seriously thinking that far ahead. This weekend was just confirmation of what the last three weeks had told us: when Sherron and Cole are on, we’re tough to beat. They got no help this weekend, but thanks to an upset on the other side of the bracket, it ended up being enough. It’s hard to rationally talk about how good those two were this weekend. They made just about every big play that we needed from them. Throw in the first recorded triple double in KU history, and it was a pretty good for Cole in his old stomping grounds.*

(What the hell was wrong with the Dayton players? I understand they’re a slashing team and not one of shooters. But after about the fifth blocked shot, don’t you start pulling up before you get within Cole’s reach, or maybe throw a head fake or two? Dumb.)

Now KU fans have to be hopeful that all the freshmen got their bed wetting out of the way this weekend. I think the opponent Friday will be a big help. They all remember what it was like for Michigan State to pummel us for about 18 minutes back in January. They also remember how, when everyone started focusing, playing defense, hitting the boards, and running the offense, we got it down to a three possession game, and were a in-and-out three by Sherron from cutting it to a two possession game. MSU’s been up-and-down all year. They looked bad in the Big 10 tournament a week ago. Looked solid this weekend. But our guys shouldn’t he afraid of them, as perhaps would be the case if we were playing Pitt or Louisville or someone unfamiliar like that Friday.

In fact, a quick look at the computer numbers show KU to be a slight favorite Friday. Vegas will say different, I expect. But if KU comes out prepared to play as a team for 40 minutes, Michigan State is ripe for the picking.

Best of all, in a year that’s been all about celebrating last year while preparing for the future, the Baby Jays get a great learning opportunity. No matter the result Friday, the players that return next season will be better for it.

My brackets are a mixed bag. I have 12 of the 16 teams remaining in the one money pool I’m in. One fewer in the two fun pools I’m in.**

(I sent Mizzou through to the Sweet 16 in the money pool, since that seemed like the smart move. In the fun pools, I picked both with my heart and the belief they would be playing Utah State in a de facto road game. Mizzou was not good on the road this year, it made sense since no money was at stake. Oh well.)

But, I butchered the first round and am well down the list in each pool.

Speaking of team’s having home games in the tournament, I enjoyed all the whining out of Westwood about UCLA having to play Villanova in Philadelphia. Funny, I didn’t hear any complaining during the Bruins’ three straight Final Fours when, despite being the #2 seed, they got to play regional finals in California two of those years against teams from the South/Midwest (Memphis in ’06, KU in ’07). I didn’t hear them complaining when they didn’t have to leave California at all in ’07 before the Final Four. But God forbid you force them to play by those rules…

I guess John Feinstein had a nasty column over the weekend about how the NCAA needs to scrap the pod system because all these odd low seeds keep getting de facto home games against top seeded teams. I want him to write the column saying the NCAA needs to stop putting tournament games in North Carolina every year so that Duke and UNC always have home court.***

(Miracle of miracles, there are no opening round or regional games in the Tarheel state next year. I’m sure the following year they’ll get both again, so either Duke or UNC spends two weeks traveling about 50 total miles.)

There’s no perfect system. It’s always been part of the tournament that the best teams are rewarded by playing close to home. Way back in the day, places like Allen Fieldhouse and Pauley Pavillion hosted games with their regular occupants often playing. Some teams will always get screwed. Good teams, teams deserving of playing for the national title, overcome these obstacles. If they don’t, they obviously weren’t worthy. And it all balances out over time. Good teams will get a favorable seeding or two, and other years they’ll have to go play someone in an inconvenient location. Deal with it.

The greatest thing about this year’s tournament? March Madness On Demand works like a charm. Last year the picture was choppy, locked up constantly, and generally looked like a very early TV experiment. I watched both the KU games this weekend in full screen, with great resolution, perfect audio, and no lock ups at all. Better, there was none of that dumb signing up early or waiting room nonsense of past years. Turn on your computer, find the site, select your game, and watch. Perfect. Well done, CBS and NCAA.

I secretly enjoy the Jordan commercials. Wish adidas was running their Brotherhood commercials more often.

We’ll talk more about these things later this week.

Rounding Into Shape

We’re six weeks into our workout sessions with our trainer. Seems like a good time for an update, no?

Up until this week, we were meeting with our trainer once each week. He’d come with a plan put together for the week, guide us through the workout, selecting settings on machines that were appropriate for our sizes and weights that fit our abilities. At the end of the workout, we got a sheet with all the exercises and related info on it to use until our next session. Pretty simple, right?

We’ve officially been in the “Acclimation and Stability” part of our 12 week program. It is designed to ease us into a program without injuries, and to focus on developing core strength along the way. Thus, we’ve been using lots of accessories – such as stability, medicine, and Bosu* balls – and odd positions – like standing on one leg while doing shoulder presses – to ensure the core muscles are always being used.

I’ve enjoyed this approach. The exercises are difficult, even with light weights, so it’s easy to see both improvement and ways to mix up workouts down the road. Working the core has generally been an afterthought when I have been a regular visitor to the gym. Like most guys, I’ve been far more worried about doing bench presses or curls or triceps exercises than spending 20 minutes hitting the abs and other core muscles in different ways. But since we started our current program, I almost always feel that pleasant soreness / tightness in my abs, back muscles, etc. that is a sign that something in there is getting stronger.

In fact, as I told our trainer Wednesday, I knew we were making progress on Monday after I had been sick all night. I’ve always been sore after having the flu, food poisoning, etc. But I’ve never been as sore as I was this week. I told him that had to be because there was muscle in there that didn’t exist six weeks ago.

A back-handed compliment, but a compliment nonetheless.

The only downside to our routine has been that a lot of the exercises look silly. Or rather, we look silly when performing them. It’s one thing to do them with a trainer around. It’s another to be doing them alone and not be self-consious about how you look. I don’t have the best balance in the world, and when I’m standing on one leg, doing shoulder presses, and teetering around, or desperately attempting to keep a Bosu ball from tipping over while I do squats on it, I imagine it looks a little strange.

But we’re making progress. I hope. We moved into phase two Wednesday, which is more a financial move than anything else. We now only meet with our trainer every other week for the next two months. He added a few more traditional exercises today, although with a twist or two, but we still spent most of the hour focusing on the core until our arms and legs and stomachs were shaking.

I feel good. I’ve not been as diligent about the cardio side of the plan, but I hope to pick that up some as it gets warmer and I can start running outside. I have adjusted my eating habits a bit, too. Taking all of that into account, I have dropped a pound or two, although weight loss wasn’t my main goal. So far, it’s been worth the money and effort. We just have to stick with the plan to make sure that remains the case.

Bracketville

After taking a look at my picks, I’m hating myself. Despite my belief that the Big East is a little overrated this year – still the best league, but can we stop the slobbering? – I have three Big East schools in the Final Four. And two more in the Elite Eight. Blech.

As I look at the brackets, this feels like one of those wide-open tournaments that comes along every so often. There are a handful of teams that are above the rest, but each of them has a serious flaw that is easy to exploit. UConn’s guards. UNC’s inability to guard anyone. Pitt’s depth. Louisville’s system.* And so on.

(I’m a firm believer that teams that press more than occasionally can not win the NCAA championship. It was one thing for UNLV or Arkansas to do it 15-20 years ago. But those teams A) were freakishly talented to begin with and B) college basketball wasn’t nearly as athletic then as it is now. Pretty much every team had a couple slow white guys who couldn’t handle pressure. Now, not only are the white guys fast, but they’ve been playing AAU ball since they were 10 and are comfortable going up-and-down for 40 minutes. I think the press is best used now as something to either get you back in a game when you’ve fallen behind or to throw the other team some different looks. But that’s just me.)

That said, I can’t see something really crazy like a five or six seed coming through to win it. There’s a fairly large pool this year of teams that have a legitimate chance to win it all, but that pool is still, at best, only 16 teams deep.

In other words, I’m not terribly confident in any of my picks, although I do have Pitt winning it all.

KU going out early last week helped with my mellow fan plan quite a bit. I didn’t read much of the pre-bracket speculation, or watch much of the ESPN previews. Thus, I avoided my annual annoyance that comes when reading about where people think KU should go. I’ve avoided a lot of the post-coverage, too. I’ve read some, so I understand that North Dakota State is a popular first round upset pick. And I also understand that a lot of people in the know think KU got screwed A) on their seed and B) on where they were slotted. In years past, my blood pressure would be way up over those things, crafting counter-arguments and forwarding links with subject lines like “Another KU-hating Idiot.” This year, I’m just waiting for the games and hoping we play well, win or lose.

It would be nice to get a win. It would be great to get two wins. If we advance to the Sweet 16, odds are I’ll see my first ever KU NCAA game in person, since they’ll be here in Indy and I know a lot of people who will be coming to town for those games. But that’s a long way away.

But this year has already been more than I expected. I can’t ask for anything more.

Hell, I even picked against KU in the second round in all my brackets. I think the Woof Gods and Basketball Lords see through such transparent acts, but it is always good to throw them the occasional sacrifice. If it doesn’t help this year, it might help down the road. Say when we are down nine with 2:00 to play, or need a three to tie with :06 remaining. I guess some might argue I’m giving thanks for last year. Fair enough.

So bring on the Bison. Yikes, Bison? Bucknell were the Bison. Bradley. Baylor. Blech. At least it’s not Butler.

Who Ordered The Giant Crap Sandwich?

Well that sucked. Losing to the biggest phonies in the conference stings.

So maybe that game in Lubbock wasn’t a fluke. Sherron looks a little hefty and tired. Cole struggles against anyone shorter and faster than him. You hate to be hearing the term “stress reaction” on a guy that big this time of year. I actually thought a lot of the other guys played decent but when the big two struggle…

That 2001 Iowa State comparison isn’t so crazy. That’s also a team that expended a lot of energy to win an unexpected conference title. While this year’s KU team is young, and thus not supposed to be ready, that team had one great player in Tinsley, a great compliment in Sullivan, and then some parts that had no business being on a conference championship team. They overachieved splendidly to win, got a break or two (as KU did this year with the schedule and Griffin’s injury) and were operating on fumes by the time the tournaments rolled around.

Hopefully KU will get a Friday / Sunday slot, a lot of rest, and be more ready than that ’01 Cyclone team was. I’m thinking three seed, since everyone else seems to be taking hits. A four would not shock. And frankly I’d prefer they not get the KC region. Make things tough on them, and they’ll respond. Send them back to the Sprint Center, and their season record there could easily be 1-3.

Looks like I’ll be watching less basketball this weekend than I had planned to.

 

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