Month: March 2010 (Page 1 of 2)

Friendly Rivals?

Evil Gail’s comment on my Butler post brought up an interesting point: as with last year’s Missouri team, it was hard for me not to like this year’s Kansas State team. Rival or not, I like teams that have a personality/style, play hard, and have players that make big shots in important situations. This year’s Wildcats fit that description to a T.

I don’t think I’m the only Big 12 fan out there who will admit I was wrong about Frank Martin. When he was hired to take over for Bob Huggins, I held the non-K-State fan line: he was a figurehead designed to keep Dalonte Hill on the staff and Michael Beasley on campus the next season who, with his past and personality, was sure to get K-State placed on probation quickly.

We were wrong.

He might be a nut job on the sidelines during games, but it’s clear he’s a legitimate Division 1 coach. He’s done what no coach has done at K-State since Lon Kruger left: turn them back into a contender both within the conference and nationally.

As I told a few people in Kansas City a week ago, I like Frank Martin for another reason: he’s a character. College coaches these days tend to be vanilla. They are media savvy and want to protect their contracts, so few rock the boat. There are plenty of coaches out there I don’t like, but I don’t like them because they are arrogant or whiners or phonies. There aren’t many true characters like there were in the Big 8 in the mid-to-late 80s, when Norm Stewart, Billy Tubbs, and Johnny Orr patrolled the sidelines. Frank Martin is in that class, with a twist.

Off-the-court, he seems like about the nicest guy in the world. He’s always full of good things to say about his opponents, his players, and the game in general. He seems like a guy I’d want to talk hoops with if we ran into each other.

But during games….dude is a maniac. There are plenty of coaches who perform on the sidelines. But with Martin there is an undercurrent of danger in his actions. I always feel like he’s right on the edge of going Bobby Knight, if not worse, on a player. In an age where few coaches are willing to show their true personalities on the sidelines, I enjoy watching him.

This leaves me in a strange situation. I admire Frank Martin and his teams. I admire Mike Anderson and his teams. My least favorite Big 12 coach? That phony, Eddie Haskell M-Fer in Waco. I never thought I’d see the day when I had more dislike for the basketball coach at Baylor than those coaching KU’s two biggest rivals.

Wacky, wild stuff.

 

They Pulled Me Back In

So I guess I can watch the Final Four now.

Traditionally in the years when KU goes out of the tournament early, I stop watching basketball. When I was younger, it was pure pouting. My team wasn’t playing anymore, so I was taking my remote and going home.

Now it’s more to protect my circulatory system. I don’t need to watch Northern Iowa miss seven free throws and shoot 25% from three point range against Michigan State. Nor do I want to sit around and strongly root against teams just to see them lose. If I don’t have a positive force to balance out that negatively, nothing good will come of that.

So other than a minute or two here-and-there, I didn’t watch basketball this weekend.

Fortunately, two of the minutes I did watch were the closing moments of the Butler – K-State game Saturday. We went to Dick’s to buy M. her first pair of soccer shoes. I had been following the score on my phone, and at last check Butler was up by 10. When we walked into the store, the game was tied. Uh oh. As most of you know, Butler closed the game out strong to advance to their first Final Four. I’ve watched a ton of Butler games this year.* I knew they were good. But Final Four good? Nah.

Surprise, surprise. And now I have a bandwagon to ride!

(They are on ESPNU all the time, which is nice if you have ESPNU. I think our cable company only added it because they picked up so many Butler games two years ago.)

Most fans of the game know Butler’s had a solid program for most of the last ten years. They’ve made a couple Sweet 16s, beaten some good teams along the way, and generally become the Gonzaga of the midwest. But that’s all they were supposed to be: a solid team that was dangerous for a win or two in the tournament, but nothing more. Unlike Gonzaga, Butler has continued to recruit close to home, not going after big time recruits as their name recognition grew. They went for the solid players that are in abundance in Indiana. They stole a couple kids who were more than capable of going to Purdue, IU, or Notre Dame away and built around them.

Now, they’ve taken the leap that Gonzaga’s never been able to take. And they get to play a National Semifinal less than six miles from their home court.

Butler is always a nice story. A small school in the heart of basketball country that has slowly built itself into power. A team that plays their home games in the same gym where both the final game of Hoosiers was filmed and where the game that inspired the movie was played. A program that, in its early days, played an important role in making college basketball the game it is today.* In the era of mega-millionaire coaches and one-and-done players, Butler stands for what many people wished all of college basketball stood for.

All of a sudden, Butler isn’t just a good story. It’s a great story. It should be a fun week here in Naptown.

(Tony Hinkle was one of Phog Allen’s major partners in creating the NCAA tournament.)

And for the record, West Virginia was my only correct Final Four pick. I haven’t even bothered to look at my brackets since KU lost.

 

Brushes With Greatness

When I was a kid it would have been among my greatest dreams to have one of the players from these little cardboard rectangles walk into my world, big as life. What I didn’t realize is that I’m the kind of fan who needs distance.

<a href=”http://cardboardgods.net/2010/03/18/duane-kuiper/”>Duane Kuiper « Cardboard Gods</a>

This quote serves two purposes. First, it allows me to link to the always excellent Cardboard Gods site, specifically to a Joe Posnanski-centered post. Second, it allows me to share another story from my trip last weekend.

I admit I never know how to act on the rare occasions I run into someone who is famous. I’m both sensitive to their desire not to be bugged by every random person they cross paths with and nervous about becoming tongue-tied and sounding like a complete idiot. So I tend to quietly brush past celebrities.

On my flight to Kansas City last Friday I was in the first boarding group and grabbed the first window seat I could find. The aisle seat was already occupied. As the later boarders filed on, a flight attendant announced that the flight was completely full so people should grab the first available seat.

A few moments later a woman who had already passed our row returned and asked the man on aisle seat if she could slip by him. As she sat next to me, I gave her the courtesy nod and returned to my magazine. A half second later I realized she looked familiar. I waited a beat and then snuck another look. Yep, I was 90% sure it was who I thought it was.

Naturally, rather than saying anything to her, I sat in my seat mute for the next hour and 15 minutes. I read my magazine, listened to music, and otherwise put on the appearance of passing time all while racking my brain for ways to break the ice.

Should I tell her that I remembered when I was nine years old and visiting my cousin at KU when we ate lunch at the same dorm cafeteria table as her?

Or should I casually ask if she was still in the line of work I last knew her to be in?

Or just ask if she watched the game the night before?

I did none of that because I’m a gigantic loser.

As we exited the plane, my confidence level increased to about 99% that I had identified her correctly.

I have a few friends who never have any qualms approaching celebrities they encounter. They always end up with great stories. I wish I had that kind of ease with others. Instead I just have a collection of near misses.

Oh, who was the woman I sat by? Only one of the greatest college basketball players of all time.

 

Winter Of Mixed Drinks

She was not the cure for cancer
And all my questions still ask for answers
There is nothing like someone new
This girl she was nothing like you

Like many fans of Frightened Rabbit’s amazing 2008 album The Midnight Organ Fight I was worried how they would follow it up. It was obvious that they were a band of great talent, centered around the lyrics and vocals of Scott Hutchinson. However, Organ Fight was so intensely focused, it was natural to wonder if the magic would still be there when they moved on to other subjects.

Fortunately, those worries were without need: their new album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, is another fine effort.

To begin, a quick look back. I first heard The Midnight Organ Fight on the morning of June 20. How do I remember the date? Because it was my birthday. I found a few tracks on the I Am Fuel, You Are Friends music blog and within moments had purchased the entire album with my new iTunes gift certificates. I was immediately struck by the power and emotion of the album. Before the weekend was over, the album had completely won me over: I was listening to it nearly non-stop.

Hutchinson’s songs about the bitter end of a relationship touched a nerve and dredged up memories of my own romantic failures. By the end of the year, the album and its opening track “The Modern Leper” had become my favorites of the year. Their strength held over time and they captured, respectively, the titles of favorite album and song of the decade. In fact, Organ Fight was the only album of the 2000s to crack my all-time top ten, bumping U2’s Achtung Baby from the top five.

The Winter of Mixed Drinks is, as one might guess, largely about moving on. The lines I began the review with, which come from the song “Nothing Like You,” are the most direct tie to Organ Fight. There is someone new, and, after other failed attempts, our narrator realizes that moving on does not mean that every loose end will be tied up. We all have questions from our past that remain unanswered, even if we’re happy now.

It’s not just about moving on from lost love, though, but also from loneliness and the obstacles of day-to-day life. Another theme is the idea of challenging yourself, whether it’s in a life-affirming manner or in an effort to move out of a rut. Hutchinson’s lyrics are, once again, fantastic if slightly less easy to digest. You have to dig into many of these songs to find the gold buried within. Musically, the band has both expanded and improved its sound. Songs are built on layers of sound, rather than the waves of Organ Fight. As with the lyrics, the music takes longer to penetrate than the last album.

Those differences are both good and bad. They’re good because the band has obviously grown. This album sounds much different than the last, but that sound is rooted in confidence and proficiency. The differences are bad because the band does get stuck in mid-tempo for much of the album. While individually excellent, the songs do have a tendency to blend together when listened to as a whole. While they step more towards the indie-rock center, they are careful not to slip into the safe territory where Coldplay is firmly entrenched. These songs still have an edge and honesty that will keep them from ever turning into pop radio hits.

Another difference between the albums is the level of emotion. Organ Fight was raw, angry, and unfiltered. Every negative emotion about a lover leaving was expressed for the world to hear, shame and consequences be damned. It was uncomfortable, at times, yet impossible to turn off. Winter of Mixed Drinks is far more subtle. There’s emotion there, to be sure, but it’s more reflective and muted than in-your-face.

The quibbles are minor, though. The album is better than most that will be released this year. I expect it to stack up favorably against the new releases from The Hold Steady, Arcade Fire, and The National scheduled for May. It is proof that this talented, passionate band from Selkirk, Scotland will be around for years to come.

4.5 ☆

 

Mixed Bag

Some weekend. Two days in Kansas City to honor a good friend who is getting married in about a month. Plenty of good food* and good times. A spring snow storm that made travel treacherous Saturday night and the weekend extra memorable. A dicey Sunday morning in which I wasn’t 100% sure I was going to be in any condition to fly home.

(Oklahoma Joe’s, Gates’, and The Peanut.)

And then the bad, a certain basketball game in Oklahoma City.

I’m terribly disappointed that my Jayhawks decided to play their worst game of the season in the second round of the NCAA tournament. I think this team was capable of winning it all, despite the flaws they exhibited all season that were most pronounced Saturday. It’s frustrating that Bill Self appears, for now, to be more Lute Olsen than Coach K.* And worst of all is that Sherron went out so poorly, both individually and with the loss.

(Not that that’s all bad. A lot of schools would have taken Lute’s Arizona career.)

I must admit, I’m not taking this loss as badly as some of the past losses. First off, when evaluating a loss, I think you have to take the big picture into account. An early loss is far worse when a team had a chance to win it all. So this certainly joins the UTEP, Arizona, and Rhode Island losses at the top of the list. While it took time, Arizona has been removed from the top of the list since they went on to beat two other #1 seeds and win the tournament.

What differentiates 2010 from 1992 and 1998, though, is 2008. Winning the title two years ago erased much of the pain of those earlier losses, along with the various Final Four and Elite Eight losses that happened since 1988. I think most non KU fans outside of the Kansas City area operate under a kind of Bill Simmons’ Five Year Rule. I’ve had several people around Indy tell me there was no pressure on KU fans this year because we had just won it. Aside from the anti-KU contingent in KC, I think that absolves some of the pain, too. We have the recent memory of that great team and their run to fall back on. Mizzou and K-State fans might mock, but that’s part of any rivalry.

Oh, and getting older helps, too. As much as 2008 helped wipe out some of those old losses, it also closed a chapter in the lives of many of us who were in school in the late 80s and early 90s and had our fandom colored with the “great but never quite great enough program” stamp. With Mario’s Miracle, suddenly we were free to act like near 40-year-olds instead of being stuck in our mid-20s.

Anyway, for whatever reason, this hurts less. The most disappointing thing to me is all the people, both fans and pundits, who are throwing the “I saw this coming” or “Certain players were problems all year” cards around. Many of those same people were picking KU to win it all just a week ago. Many of those people were lauding KU for beating K-State, a Sweet 16 team, for the third time a week ago. The football fight, Tyshawn’s issues, and whatever unconfirmed drama that may surround the Henry brothers didn’t suddenly torpedo a team that had won 33 games.

We played poorly and were matched against the prototypical mid-major team that is well equipped for a March upset: UNI had legitimate size, deep shooting threats, good ball handlers, and experience. I hoped the fact UNI was a known factor by most in the basketball world would get the guys focused. Guess not. They came out flat and other than the late rally, never looked good.

So now I’m trying to adhere to the policy I adopted a few years ago: don’t let one game ruin an entire season. While we are, without a doubt, the disappointment of the tournament, it was still a fantastic season. A sixth-straight conference championship. A conference tournament title. The #1 overall seed in the tournament. One loss should not outweigh the joy that 33 wins brought. One bad game should not erase all the good memories of a four-plus month season.

When I look back on the 2010 Jayhawks, I’ll always be disappointed that they came up short. Even at KU, teams that are the favorite to win the national championship don’t come along every year. We’ll still be quite good next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. Whether we’re a #1 seed again in the next couple years, or only a two or three or four, we’ll have enough talent to win four games and get to the Final Four. Whether we add to our history of big wins in March or upset losses remains to be seen.

Rock Chalk, bitches.

 

Changing Times

A little more stressful of a start for KU than I had hoped, but a W is a W. And perhaps their early struggles last night will get them focused in on Northern Iowa.

Now for a post that’s been sitting in the drafts folder all week.

I’m getting to be old enough that I can start pining for the good old days. Of course, it’s weird to think that to my generation the good old days took place in the 1980s. Were they really that long ago?

Anyway, Joe Posnanski has a fine piece in Sports Illustrated last week about KU and Bill Self. This quote stuck out for me:

When Bill Self recruits a player to Kansas, any player, he begins by putting into perspective what basketball means at the school. He will say, “Look, I am never going to be the greatest coach at Kansas. And you are never going to be the greatest player. So we might as well get that straight right off the bat.”

That’s a nice way of Self putting the history of KU into perspective for recruits who probably don’t know much about it beyond Mario Chalmers and putting himself into their same position. “You might think you’re the shit, but we’re both going to be footnotes to something bigger than us.”

It also made me kind of sad. What coach can tell a hotshot recruit that he’s going to be the best player to ever play at his school? Unless we’re talking about a John Wall-type talent shocking the world and going to a mid-major, it’s not possible anymore. The truly elite talents aren’t going to spend more than a year on a college campus, in most cases. Even if they spend two, that’s rarely enough to make an impact on the history of a big time basketball school.*

(Of course this opens a whole argument about how you pick the greatest player. In KU’s case, is it Wilt Chamberlain, who only spent two years in Lawrence but redefined the game and was an unparalleled physical force, or Danny Manning, who spent four years, won a championship, and finished his career at the top of just about every list in the KU record books?)

There are going to be plenty of Sherron Collinses or Tyler Hansbroughs; excellent players who because of circumstance or size spend four years in college and firmly stamp their names in the history books. But Sherron, as great as he is, will never be in the discussion for Greatest KU Player. He might get some votes, hell he might even be a top five player, but he’s not going to the top of the list.* Tyler might have finished his career at the top of many of the UNC statistical charts, but we all know he’s not in the same class as Jordan, Worthy, etc.

(OK, my list of greatest KU players ever? 1. Manning 2. Wilt 3. Paul Pierce 4. Clyde Lovellette 5. Nick Collison with Sherron’s status pending the end of his career.*)

Then again, maybe that’s a good thing. Don’t Sherron and Tyler represent more of what college basketball is supposed to be about than the players who use college as a pit stop on the way to the pros? Guys who learned to truly love the school they played for because of four years spent on the campus and in the uniform. Sherron, for example, might not be a rocket scientist*, but he’s going to get a degree. That’s more than you can say about a lot of the guys who make the early jump.

OK, I take it all back.

(“Ain’t no seats!”)

 

Picks

Hardest year ever to make picks. Because of the parity that college basketball has seen this year? No, because I don’t have a feel for any of these teams. Usually, right or wrong, I can look at the brackets and have a feel for each team. I like this team’s style, dislike that one’s. I think that team is peaking, this one is toast. That coach is a tool. Etc.

But looking at this year’s bracket not many feelings are presenting themselves. My first crack at the brackets produced an all #1 seed Final Four. That’s not right. I think Duke has the easiest path of the #1 seeds, but I also think Duke is the most limited of the #1 seeds. So do I send them through, or find someone who can exploit their weaknesses? I think Kentucky has not been truly tested this year. But they have the most 1-5 talent in the country. Which is more important?

Worse, I don’t see any upsets jumping out at me. Some of that has to do with my location. People are jumping all over UTEP upsetting Butler, but I don’t see that happening. And others love Siena over Purdue. Purdue isn’t going deep with Robbie Hummel injured, but I think people are putting too much weight on their performance against Minnesota last week. They’re still a good team.

So, here’s what I have:

Elite Eight:
KU-OSU

‘Cuse-KSU

UK-WVU

Duke-Baylor

Nothing too edgy.

Final Four:
KU

‘Cuse (If there’s a KU-K-State National Semi-final, I’m not going nor am I watching. I can’t handle that game.)

WVU

Baylor

And I think you know who I have winning it all. That’s right, Baylor! I kid. Although I do normally fall in love with Texas when the brackets come out, only to be burned. Seems like Baylor could easily take their place. KU will beat West Virginia (who I think we all have overrated, yet I have them winning five games) and I will win my local pool that is run by a WVU alum. Perfect.

A few minor first round upsets, but no Cinderellas going deep. Be sure to print these off to throw in my face in two weeks.

 

Brackets

If you think I have some thoughts, you thought right. I think.

Let’s just get this out of the way: someone at Duke called in some serious favors. It’s one thing if they had earned the top overall seed to be rewarded like that. But there were reasonable voices who said, on Sunday, that Duke was not deserving of a #1 seed. The way their bracket looks, I’m surprised the committee didn’t do a last second switch and move some games to Greensboro or Charlotte, too.

Whatever. Fuck Duke. KU earned the top overall seed fair-and-square: they won the most difficult league in the country by four games, won the Big 12 tournament, and earned 13 wins over RPI top 50 teams. The reward, as we had hoped all year, is playing in Oklahoma City and, should we advance, in St. Louis. Easy trips for the team, close enough so there should be a lot of blue in the stands. Doesn’t matter who we play, as far as I’m concerned. We may not be flashy, but we win. Our schedule has prepared us for three two game tournaments against the toughest competition. We should be ready.

Looking at the Midwest, it’s a tough bracket. Northern Iowa could be waiting in the second round, and they’re tough and experienced. We know UNLV from two years ago. Michigan State has been a bit of a mystery this season, but Izzo’s teams are never an easy out. Last year they were tougher than us. This year…? Maryland is a quality team. Georgetown has been rounding into shape. And Ohio State is built around, arguably, the best player in the country.

What I like about the draw is that those are name teams. This year’s team tends to play to its competition. I think they’ll be properly focused because of the names on the front of the jerseys of their opponents.

That is, of course, if we can break our Patriot League opponent in OKC jinx. Rhode Island was in OKC, too. Damn.

I’ll do full picks later this week, but for now I’m going to do what I hope the team is doing: enjoying the memories of the last four months for one last night, getting some rest, and then preparing for the most important three weeks of the year. I’d like to have a lot of plans downtown Easter weekend.

 

Local Hoops Update

A quick update on local basketball.

First off, EHS fell one game short of taking their first regional title in 59 years. They won their Saturday morning contest in overtime,* their third straight one-point win, but dropped the championship game by 12 points. Still, a great year for a school that hadn’t had a winning record in ten years. They return almost their entire team, so I’m looking forward to following them again next year.

Regionals are single-day events. Four teams play semi finals in the morning/early afternoon, then the winners return for the championship game that evening. Believe it or not, I was not a big basketball fan growing up. Baseball was always my favorite sport to play and I just played basketball to do something in the winter. But I always liked single day tournaments. I remember once we had to play four games in a day. Love the fact Indiana still uses the single-day format for two rounds of the state playoffs.*

Returning to last week’s game, as I mentioned in my account there was a racial element to the wild finish to the sectional championship game. The losers, IHS, petitioned the state high school athletics association to move them to a different sectional next year. They claimed their players were subjected to racial taunts by the EHS crowd on Saturday. The official responsible for setting sectional match ups quickly shot the request down, noting that the IHS players instigated whatever interactions there were with the crowd and that they made no complaints about racial comments during the game.

I don’t know what was and was not said. The key encounter took place across the court from me in a very loud gym. I would not be surprised if someone in the crowd said something inappropriate. But, the IHS players never reacted as if they had heard any of the magic words from the crowd. They were far more upset with the referees than the crowd. It was only after the final technical foul that people on the bench began pointing at the crowd. The players on the court never grabbed the officials and pointed out people in the stands. Not that that means nothing was said; it just seems to me that if magic bombs were dropped, there would have been an immediate and obvious reaction from the players.

Also, and this means nothing at all, there were exactly two African Americans in the EHS crowd, and both were sitting in the area where the confrontation took place. Seems unlikely that any of the other fans would be dropping racial bombs with black folks sitting right next to them. Then again, maybe it was the black EHS fans who were heckling the IHS players. That would be ironic.

Whatever, it will make for an interesting rematch next year of the two teams meet in sectionals again.

 

Dear Diary

Periodically we buy the girls spiral notebooks to use however they see fit. Most of the time they turn into sources for paper when they want to draw and color. But, as M. learns to read and write, hers has taken on a new use: her first diary.

While she was insistent at first that we were not to read her diary, since she’s broadcast every entry to the entire family I feel comfortable sharing some of my favorite entries here. So, with some of her spelling errors,* here they are.

(Unfortunately I can’t do the backwards or misshapen letters.)

Dear Diary, C. kicked me.

(Her first, and my favorite, entry. What better use for a diary than to complain about a sibling?)

Dear Diary, I wont to go to floota (Florida)

(We’re considering a beach vacation sometime in the next year. I think she’s made her vote on destination.)

Dear Diary, I have a new ring with lipstic in sid the ring

Dear Diary, Doo you like me

(We think this one is especially cute.)

Dear Diary, Dade gave me a weird look like this

(Below she drew a rather demonic looking picture of me. I did give her a weird look, but I don’t remember growing horns.)

Dear Diary, Mom gave me a werd look

(The picture of S. just has her with a sad face. No horns.)

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