I’m trying to get back into a routine after the holidays, and a few big sports stories demand some words.
As I drove home Monday night, I was able to listen to the Kansas-Oklahoma game. When I pulled into my garage, OU had just gone up by 8 with around eight minutes to play in the second half. By the time I got my gear inside, said hello to S. before she went to bed, and then got downstairs, KU had erased the lead. I turned on the TV just after Wayne Selden tied the game and the teams were going to their benches following an OU timeout.
I missed seeing plenty, but I got home just in time for the best part of the night.
There were nearly 19 minutes of game play left, as the old rivals battled into a third overtime before KU snuck out a three-point win. If ever a game demanded the label Instant Classic, this was it. A double #1 battle – KU ranked #1 in the AP poll, OU #1 in the Coaches poll – that went back-and-forth, had plenty of controversial moments, had even more breath-taking moments, and ended up being everything you could ask for from a college basketball game. As ESPN went to Sportscenter, Scott Van Pelt summed up the night nicely, “Well, that’ll do.”
Other than KU getting the win, perhaps my favorite part of the night was the respect between the teams. There was plenty of gentle yapping during the game, but it was never done with anger. Between plays you could see guys talking to each other, grinning, and slapping each other on the butt after a nice play. Following the game, the handshakes and hugs lasted a little longer than normal. It was obvious that the players all appreciated what they had just been through, and were proud not just of their own efforts, but of their opponents’ as well. It was a pretty cool night.
Oh, and Buddy Hield was awesome. I realize it’s easy to say that when your team wins, but if you couldn’t appreciate what he was doing, you must be a real dick. He scored at the rim and on ridiculous shots behind the arc. He got to the free throw line. He set up his teammates. He worked hard to get in scoring position. I saw both Anthony Peeler and Randy Rutherford go for over 40 in Allen Fieldhouse in the 90s. Those performances were awesome. I saw Kevin Durant’s explosion in 2007 on TV, and that was flat out insane. But Buddy was kind of in a league of his own. Peeler, Rutherford, and Durant were all A+ performances. Hield’s was A+++.
After the game, Bill Self addressed my only complaint about the night when he said it was too early for a game this good. This was a hugely entertaining game. But it was also on January 4, and both teams have 16 more conference games to play. In four Saturdays, KU hosts Kentucky while OU will face LSU and freshman phenom Ben Simmons. Sadly, this wasn’t played on the first Monday of March, as the deciding game in the Big 12 race. In two months, who knows how meaningful this game will be. KU goes on the road to play a surprising Texas Tech team Saturday, then to West Virginia Tuesday. Lose one or both of those, and a lot of the luster from Monday fades. And to casual fans of the sport, the glory of the night will pale in comparison to what the teams do once the NCAA tournament begins.
Still, for devoted fans of college hoops, it was a beautiful night. Two rivals who have been playing each other for nearly a century competing until near exhaustion on a cold winter night in a building that is in its seventh decade. For those of us that grew up on Big 8 basketball, it was a throwback to the league’s 1980’s glory days.
In the aftermath, there was discussion of what was the best game in Allen Fieldhouse history. These lists are always biased by what has happened most recently. And they also tend to skew to the ESPN era, where every game is on TV and we have a visual document of what happened.
Was this the best game in Allen history? I think it is for one reason: it was so evenly played from beginning to end. KU had two 11-point leads in the first half, which Oklahoma erased with shocking quickness and ease. OU was up by 10 in the second half, which KU meticulously carved down to nothing. Both teams seized the momentum in each overtime period, only to see it swing the opposite way.
It reminds me of one of my favorite games that I attended, the late December 1993 matchup with Indiana. Both teams were ranked, although it was #6 vs. #12. That game also saw the teams trade leads all night. It had a controversial call late that could have affected the outcome (Steve Woodberry being whistled for traveling late in regulation). It also went to overtime, where Jacque Vaughn hit a 3-pointer with a tick or two left to win the game. However, that game was a non-conference contest right before Christmas on regional television. Outside Kansas and Indiana, not many people saw it, other than the highlights on Sportscenter.
Anyway, the best games at Allen list must include those two games, the final game against Missouri in 2012, the Kevin Durant game, the UCLA comeback game in 1995, and the Kentucky game in 1989.
During the later stages of Monday’s game, the ESPN crawl announced that the Colts had signed head coach Chuck Pagano to an extension. If the game above the crawl wasn’t so engrossing, that news would have floored me.
It was pretty much assumed that after a season of mediocrity on the field and distractions off of it, Pagano would be sent packing. General Manager Ryan Grigson, who has swung-and-missed often on roster moves, was thought to be in danger as well. One might return, but both?
Thus it was an even bigger shocker Tuesday morning when word came that Grigson would come back, too. Supposedly owner Jim Irsay laid down the law and Pagano and Grigson are now on the same page.
To which I will roll my eyes and begin to wonder if the Colts are at risk of wasting the Andrew Luck era.
I like Chuck. Players seem to rally around him and he’s a sympathetic personality. I don’t think the mess the Colts roster has become is his fault. It was an open secret that he was not happy with many of Grigson’s choices in both the free agent market and the draft over the past couple years. But there is also plenty of evidence that he may not be the best coach in the world. The Colts have been blown out far too often in recent years for a team that expects to challenge for the conference title. Too often the Colts looked thoroughly out-classed early in games. Pagano doesn’t call plays on either side of the ball, but being prepared for kickoff is on him. I’m not sure he’s the right guy to lead the team, although I will reserve full judgement until we see who will be coordinating on both sides of the ball next year.
Grigson arrived in Indy with the tag of next great NFL GM. He had helped build a deep, powerful roster in Philadelphia. He was an Indiana guy and seemed perfect to launch the next era of the franchise. Not much he’s done in terms of big roster moves has gone well, most notably the trade for Trent Richardson. Word surfaced last week that Grigson is very unpopular with many of the players and coaching staff. To be fair, that talk always seems to surface when a regime change is on the horizon.
I felt the smartest thing to do was can Grigson, go ahead and let Pagano’s contract lapse and allow him to find another job, and then start over. Maybe Irsay is a crazy genius and this will work. But I’m pretty doubtful and figure the front office/coaching staff mass purge happens a year from now.
And finally, Alex Gordon re-signs with the Royals! What a huge, happy surprise!
Last summer I made mental preparations for the Royals not being able to bring Gordon back. He had already signed one contract that was (likely) below market value to stay in KC. Why would he do it when this is probably the last long-term contract he’ll ever sign? Especially when he’s had a fantastic run and become one of the most valuable players in the game?
I don’t know if other teams were afraid of the injuries he’s had the past two years, thinking they were a sign that he would age poorly. Or perhaps, despite the long list of defensive highlights, they discount what he has done in left field. Or maybe it’s just his notoriously streaky bat that worried other teams. Regardless, something kept other teams from pushing his price tag beyond the Royals’ means. And you knew that if the Royals could stay competitive in dollars and years, Alex would choose them over anyone else.
In the summer, I figured the smart move was to let Alex walk and spend that money elsewhere. But after winning a World Series, I’ll admit emotion trumps intellectual belief. Plus, the Royals might as well keep as many quality players as they can afford through the next two seasons and wait until Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain, and Escobar, or some combination of that group, have left to begin the next rebuild.
- Which, to be fair, I thought was a reasonable risk at the time. Figured Richardson’s issues were a function of playing in Cleveland more than him being a massive NFL bust. ↩