Month: March 2017 (Page 1 of 3)

Friday Photo

Fujifilm X-T10, XF35mm: 1/80 sec at f/2.0, ISO 200

I took this on a walk around the Fountain Square area of Indianapolis back in February. I took several shots of this entryway area of a theater but, honestly, didn’t love the way any of them turned out. I sat on them for awhile, hoping when I came back to them my opinion would change. One day last week, when I had nothing else to post to Instagram, I decided to convert the pic to black and white and give it a shot. It ended up being one of my most-liked posts. Which isn’t saying much. I don’t have a ton of followers and my likes tend to max out somewhere around 30. Still, I thought it was interesting how while I still don’t necessarily love the pic, a lot of others found something to like in it.

Friday Playlist

Busy week so low on posts. Still time to share some music, though.

“Please, Let’s Go Away” – Trementina. Today is the first day of our spring break. As we’ve already taken a trip this year, we’ll be staying close to home for the next week. Doesn’t mean we can’t wish we were going somewhere warm, especially since the forecast is cool and rainy for most of the next 10 days. Love the little hints of Afro-pop in this song that enhance its desire to go somewhere else. Just found out these kids are from Chile, too, which is cool.

“This Time” – Land of Talk. Another dreamy song filled with longing.

“68” – White Jackets. These cats are from Finland, which is likely a first for the Friday Playlists. They compare their sound to the War on Drugs and Tom Petty. I listened to their album this week and I hear pretty much zero of that influence. But I dig this tune, which sounds much more like post-punk filtered through Shearwater.

“Are You Happy” – Bipolar Sunshine. A lot of the neo-R&B that is bouncing around the indie channels these days does not connect with me. But this song is magical. And it gives me hope that real spring isn’t too far away.

The End

Saturday I had a feeling I can’t ever remember having during a KU loss, especially a season-ending loss. Peace.

Oh, I had my moments of yelling, cursing the TV, and throwing things, no doubt about that.

But as Oregon’s cold-blooded assassins dropped in ridiculous shot after ridiculous shot, as Jordan Bell kept rejecting every shot KU took near the rim, and as KU could never find anything on offense beyond BIFM, it was obvious this was not KU’s night.

I switched beers and seats at halftime, but as the deficit grew to 18, I mostly just sat and watched. I let out a little yelp when a Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk three cut the lead to six with plenty of time to play. But I had watched KU miss free throws, miss wide-open shots from near and far, and turn the ball over by trying to make the tough play rather than the easy play. I knew they had dug too big of a hole this time. And when Josh Jackson’s fingertips knocked a rebound out of Frank Mason’s hands, I knew the game was over before Tyler Dorsey hit his back-breaking three.

I was bummed when the game was over, no doubt. But a different kind of bummed than I’ve ever felt this time of year. I realized KU just got their asses kicked, plain and simple. And by a really good team. Take away their two early losses when Dillon Brooks was injured and the Ducks entered the game with a better record that KU. A three-seed, sure. But a damn good one. I see no shame in losing to those guys.

In the hypothetical “If these teams played ten times” scenario, I think Oregon would likely get the better of KU overall. They are built to give this KU team problems. But Saturday’s game was the worst possible alignment of hypotheticals for KU: the Ducks were nearly perfect, KU played as poorly as they’ve played all season. Somewhere in those 10 imaginary games there was a reverse of Saturday, a night where KU played like they had on Thursday against Purdue and Oregon was the team that couldn’t hit a shot from behind the arc.

Here’s the other thing, though. In my post-game pout session, while I was so bummed that this team doesn’t get to hang their own banner or play in the Final Four, I also could not stop thinking about how great this season was. This team was the least frustrating KU team I can remember. Sure, there were moments of frustration. But they always got their shit together and left you feeling good about them. Well, until Saturday. To me, this might be the most fun KU team ever.

Frank Mason became BIFM this year, and in the process became one of the most beloved KU players of all time. He’s my favorite player since Paul Pierce and one of my three favorite Jayhawks ever. I’m sad I don’t get to watch him play for KU again.

Josh Jackson was a once-in-a-generation talent that delivered on the hype. As much as anything Oregon did, I think Josh picking up two quick fouls torpedoed KU’s hopes more than anything. He way a joy to watch, especially over the past six weeks when he really got it going. I’m sad we’re in the one-and-done era and I don’t get to watch him really take off next year.

Final Fours aren’t a right for any team, no matter the name on the front of the jersey, the player names on the back, or the coach who calls the plays. I really wanted this team to get one to call their own to solidify their place in KU history. But, as Saturday stretched into Sunday, I realized I can’t let that failure do to this team what I’ve done to others. This team gave me too much joy to let one shitty night in March ruin it.

Back in November my expectations for this year’s team were fairly muted. I never expected Frank Mason to turn into the best player in the country. I never expected that Jackson would finally be the KU freshman who was dominant. I never expected Bill Self to adjust his offense to make sure his best players were always on the court. I never expected Landen Lucas to turn into a defensive and rebounding beast, something made even more important given Udoka Azubuike’s injury, Carlton Bragg’s lack of development, and Dwight Coleby’s slow return from knee surgery. Most of all, I just thought last year’s team had a little more depth and that difference would be what kept this year’s team from being great.

Yet they defied those expectations all year. From that scintillating overtime game with Indiana that kicked off the season, to beating Duke in New York when BIFM introduced himself to the nation, to that stretch in January where they won at Kentucky and then beat Baylor, to the epic comebacks against West Virginia and Oklahoma, to the last minute wins in Waco and Lubbock, and finally to their scorching three-game run to start the NCAA tournament, this team just kept entertaining and satisfying me.

I’m going to remember this team for the 31 amazing nights, not the bad ending.

Next year’s team might be better. Or maybe the year after that. Or some team that isn’t as good as this one will finally get past that Elite 8 block. But I think it’s going to be a long time before I love a team as much as I loved this one.

With the loss comes the obligatory, “Which March KU loss was worse?” discussion.

First off, anyone that doesn’t have the 2011 VCU loss first is an idiot. That was a shitty VCU team against a loaded KU team in a year that produced a really bad Final Four. No other loss can compare to that, as I think it was KU’s best chance for a national championship since 2008.[1]

Second, I don’t think people are giving Oregon enough credit. Like I said, they had a better record that KU when you subtract the losses without Dillon Brooks. Their wins weren’t as good as KU’s, either, but it was clear watching that team that they have at least three NBA players (plus one who is injured now), and were just a nightmare matchup for KU. No matter what happens next week, I would put Oregon right up there with Villanova last year as the least bad loss.

So, sure, KU had the national POY and perhaps the best freshman in the country, the #1 seed, and (near) home court advantage. They lost to a good team, though. Bad loss, sure. Terrible loss? I don’t think so.

I’m going to keep some of those games from January and February that are on our DVR just a little longer, so on nights when I have nothing else to watch I can pull one up and watch these guys do what they did so spectacularly for five months. Sure, I’m going to think about all the guys coming back or coming in next year and eventually start wondering how good that group will be. But I’ll never stop thinking about this team.

Rock Chalk, bitches.

  1. I guess other than the 2012 team that actually played for the title. But come one, they were playing the Anthony Davises. We were just happy we actually kept it close for 40 minutes.  ↩

Friday Playlist

A quick playlist since I’m well behind schedule today.

“Dundee Man” – Spiral Stairs. I was sure this band was Scottish. Turns out it is actually Pavement co-founder Scott Kannberg. I still like the song.
“Hope The High Road” – Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. Drifting more toward the rock side of his alt-country sound, I really like this song.
“Living In The City” – Hurray for the Riff Raff. Love the swing and sass in this tune.

“I’m Bad” – LL Cool J. The first hip-hop track by an artist other than RUN-DMC or the Beastie Boys that I found on my own and loved. I heard it the other day and was pleased that I can still rap along with LL to about 80% of the words. This is a really high quality video, too!

Destruction, Terror, and Mayhem

Holy shit! What a goddamn game.

It’s taken me until noon Friday to calm down a little bit after a thoroughly satisfying Thursday night of hoops. I went to bed after 1:00, and slept only fitfully between the lingering adrenaline and the trips to the bathroom caused by that last beer at 12:30. This morning my pulse was still a wee bit fast, so I threw my camera over my shoulder, drove to a couple nearby nature parks, and spent two hours walking and snapping pics.

And still, when I start thinking about last night’s beatdown at the Sprint Center, my heart kicks a little quicker.

Sweet 16 games are normally brutal, stomach-churning, soul-crushing games that leave you in a puddle regardless of the result. But last night was the exact opposite of that. A team that clicked in every way for 30 minutes and absolutely destroyed a really good team.

All week long I had been worried about how KU would handle Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas, and how our approach with them could lead to wide-open shots by Purdue’s collection of excellent shooters. And for 10 minutes those fears seemed justified.

Then Matt Painter did something dumb – doubling Landen Lucas in the post – KU hit a couple shots, the defense ratcheted up, and a switch was flipped/fuse lit. Every shot started rimming out for the Boilers, they started throwing the ball away, somehow KU started getting every rebound, and KU’s shots began raining down from all around the arc.

Still, it was a two-point game five minutes into the second half and Biggie was yapping first at Lucas and then at the entire KU bench after he drained a couple 3s.

More than any strategic change by either coach, that was the turning point. Four minutes later the game was effectively over, as Frank Mason took over, Landen dunked all over the Purdue D, and LaGerald Vick turned in the greatest dunk in KU’s NCAA history. I mean, a 360 in a still fairly tight game? Gigantic stones to even attempt that. One beat writer Tweeted that, had he missed it, Vick likely would have found himself tackled and choked by Bill Self before the ball hit the floor.

The game went from 2 points to 14 in a blink. Then to 20 when Devonte Graham started hitting everything. And finally 32 freaking points over the champion of a power five conference in March.

And thank goodness. I have a lot of Purdue friends, and while they were all good natured with me this week, losing to them in March, in Kansas City, would have been terrible. Bookend that with a loss to Indiana in the season-opening game, and I might have to burn all my KU gear. Or at least never wear it here again.

100, 90, and 98 points through three games. I think this team is rolling. BIFM is BIFM. Josh Jackson finds a way to impact the game every night. Devonte Graham is hot as hell. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and LaGerald Vick have turned into a great, two-headed monster at the 3-spot. Dwight Coleby is providing solid minutes. Hell, KU has blown open the last two games with Landen Lucas on the bench fighting foul trouble each time, which I think was our biggest fear in both games.

Momentum shifts quickly in March. All it takes is one bad shooting night, or a couple tough foul calls, to derail a team. But, man, this team looks absolutely locked in.

Oregon will be a great challenge in the Elite 8. Like KU, they lost to a #2 seed in last year’s Elite 8 and seek redemption. Like KU they’re playing without a very important big man. Like KU they play mostly four guards and love to run and bomb from deep. I’d love a repeat of the last time these teams met in March, that wonderfully entertaining regional final in Madison in 2002. That Oregon team though they could run with KU. And they did for about 30 minutes. Then the wave crested and crashed and wiped the Ducks off the court.

I’m going to keep basking in the glow of last night probably into tonight. But then the nerves will kick back in again and I’ll be miserable until around 8:50 tomorrow night when the game begins.

I did pay close attention to the local media this morning. Words and phrases that stuck out: “avalanche,” “destroyed,” “embarrassed,” “a whole different level of talent and basketball,” “worst Purdue loss in years.” Nice.

The other three games last night were exactly what the Sweet 16 is normally about. I think fans of all six teams had to have felt drained afterward. And for the three losers, those losses will sting extra hard. Absolutely brutal possessions by Michigan, West Virginia, and Arizona on their last chances with the ball. It’s one thing to lose a heartbreaker. It’s another to spend all summer thinking about the shots those games ended on.

Reader’s Notebook, 3/23/17

I need distractions today. 9:40 pm tips for Sweet 16 games are complete garbage. Too much waiting. I’ll catch you up on my books to kill a little time.

Finders Keepers – Stephen King.
Book two in his Bill Hodges trilogy moves a little differently than the first. This one spends nearly 150 pages setting up two back stories – one in the 1970s, the other contemporary to book one – before King finally pulls the returning characters in.

Of course the two back stories end up being connected, and soon a murderer released from prison after 30 years is stalking an 18-year-old who stumbled upon the loot he hid away before his incarceration. Bill Hodges and his friends get roped into the case, and are once again racing the clock to save someone from a psychopathic killer.

It’s a brisk read, and honestly, not a super great tale on its own. Where the story sucked me in, though, were in the nuggets King left for book three. The man responsible for the crimes in the first book may not be the brain-damaged vegetable he appears to be. Weird things are happening in his hospital room. Classic, 1970s King weird. If I hadn’t picked up two books I had on hold at the library yesterday, I probably would have gone straight to book three.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals – J. Maarten Troost.
It’s the mid–90s. Troost and his girlfriend are recent college grads struggling to establish careers that don’t feel soulless. As they struggle, their debt piles up. On a whim they decide to chuck it all and head to a tiny island in the Pacific where his girlfriend will run an international aid project and Troost will tag along for the experience.

Thus we end up with this delightful book. Troost shares all that is weird, wacky, and wild about Tarawa, an island in the Kiribati group. Unlike other books I’ve read about traveling through the Pacific, Troost doesn’t just paddle around for a couple days, or pop in-and-out of islands as part of a larger journey. Nope, they spent several years on Tarawa, getting comfortable with the locals and living through all that is frustrating about an island that lies just off the equator and has a shrinking drinking water supply and only periodic electricity. In other words, Tarawa was hot, stinky, and far from the island paradise Troost had in his head.

Troost shares stories of traveling between islands in both planes that are literally held together with masking tape and on boats made of plywood that are being battered by 25-foot waves. Eating food that is almost guaranteed to cause serious digestive issues. Frustrations with local customs foreign to him. Dealing with roving packs of dogs. How the I-Kiribati have no fear of sharks. And the absurdities of foreign aid: medical supplies lie rotting at the airport because no one requested them or they lack the equipment needed to use them; UN officials spend more money on their travel and lodging than on helping the struggling islanders; and efforts to build a local economy are torpedoed by government officials who suck up any profits before they reach the folks doing the work.

Tarawa is a crazy-ass island, but eventually Troost and his wife come to love its rhythms and pace of life. When it comes time to return to the US, only a chance encounter with another American who has been in the Pacific for over 20 years and went native convinces them they should finally head home. But there is a touching twist to the end of their story. After a few years back in the States, in which they both land lucrative careers and are living lives of luxury, they chuck it all to return to Fiji and work in the aid community again. Just before the book ends, their son is born and they decide to raise him in the islands rather than back home.

Troost’s writing is deeply funny. He has a good eye for the ridiculous and is also willing to poke fun at himself. He’s written three more books about his family’s lives in the Pacific and China. They are all now on my (never ending) To Read list.

Winter Sports Wrap Up

I realized over the weekend that I never closed out our winter sports season. I think part of the delay was because of how winter sports ended for our two oldest girls.

Let’s start with M, whose volleyball team had a fine regular season, going 5–2. By the end of the season they had a number of girls who could consistently rip off a long stretch of serves in a row, including M. They also had several girls who could set well and a couple girls who could hit at the net.

For the first game of the city tournament, they faced a team that had only won one match all season. Our girls won the first set rather easily, with M closing it out with seven straight from the serving box. As tends to happen, for some reason, the entire team lost their focus in set two. M and the two other girls who had served best in set one won a combined four points in set two. They never really got into it and we went to a third set to see who advanced.

It was tight through the first 4–5 servers for each team, but St. P’s was always playing catchup. They got the serve back down 14–7 and won five straight before a ball into the net ended their season. It was a frustrating loss because they seemed to be a lot better than their opponents. But they lost their serves and their confidence in set two and never got them back.

M continued her steady improvement. She had some games where she served really, really well. She was almost always good for a point or two when her turn came up. Her passing got better and she was one of the second-choice setters. She was the loudest kid on the team. You couldn’t not hear her yelling “COME ON GUYS!!!!” anytime they lost a point. Most of all, she really enjoys the game.

As for C’s team, as you will recall we had not won a game through our first four of the regular season. In game six, our girls played as well as they had played all year. They won set one, lost set two narrowly, and in set three raced out to a quick lead. They got the set to 14–7 and needed just one point to win their first match of the year. You could see the excitement and the preparations to celebrate on our girls faces.

I was keeping score this game, so rather than being on the bench I was sitting at midcourt. The other team won a couple points, and then our best player muffed an easy pass. And then another. 14–11 and I could see every ounce of confidence just drain out of our girls. 14–12. 14–13. 14–14. In youth volleyball it’s just first to 15, you don’t have to win by two points. Another good serve, another poor return, and the set and match were over.

Huge bummer. They were so close. There were some tears.

In the next game we got our asses thoroughly kicked by a team that had like eight girls who could serve better than anyone on our team. And in the tournament, same thing: we just got hammered by a team that had a roster full of servers. These games were tough to watch. It’s like the other teams had fifth graders and our girls were all third graders. You now it’s bad when the other coaches, who were all moms/aunts/big sisters, give you sad, “I’m sorry for your girls” faces when you shake hands after the game.[1]

Our girls did improve over the year. The head coach and I just couldn’t figure them out. They would be silly and laughing and loose in practice, but as soon as the games started they tightened up and stopped chasing the ball. As I mentioned before, the head coach played in college – and was really good I should add – and I think she struggled to figure out what she needed to say/do differently to get the girls to put what she taught in practice into their game performances. I told her after our last game that a good chunk of these girls will probably be a lot better next year, and the base she gave them will be responsible for that improvement.

This was my first time coaching volleyball and I realized how complex the game is. I played a lot of volleyball into my early 30s and I always just played without thinking too much about strategy, positioning, etc. I’ve coached soccer and basketball before. Soccer, at the youth level, isn’t too tough to relate to kids. Basketball can be complex, but I’ve focused on the basics which I think are fairly easy to grasp. But volleyball, with knowing when to go after balls, when to let your teammate get it, how to move around the court, etc. is deceptively complex. I often found myself at a loss at how to help our girls. My contributions generally were yelling “You have to call the ball, girls, and if you call it, you have to go get it.” I told the head coach I was pretty much there to throw and shag balls in practice and stay out of her way.

C has a chance to be a decent player. She was the most athletic kid on her team. She can hit the ball hard. But she is just so unfocused. She’ll hit a couple perfect serves, then go through a couple games where she was lunging for the ball and couldn’t get it in to save her life. She got to the ball better than anyone on the team. But almost every time she would wind up and hit it as hard as she could instead of gently passing it over the net. I kept telling her, use your legs to pass, but every time she’d start with her hands near her ankles and end with them above her head. One game she just hit the shit out of the ball and knocked it straight up into the gym rafters. The look on her face was classic, like she had just broken a window or something. She would get excited when we played in gyms with really high ceilings.

So volleyball is done. C started kickball practice last week. M starts Friday. L has her first soccer practice next Thursday. Spring sports have already sprung.

  1. Not in a condescending way, either. Like they were genuinely sorry for beating us so badly.  ↩

Tourney Notes, KU Edition

And now for the mighty Jayhawks.

Sunday was everything this year’s team is about, compressed into 40 minutes. Moments where they looked completely brilliant. Moments where they faced a serious personnel issue and eased past it with no problem. Moments where they looked totally dominant on the glass. Moments where they could get, and make, any shot they wanted.

And then the moments where they played entirely too fast without any poise. The moments they seemed only mildly interested in playing defense. Moments when they took great scoring chances and turned them into the most difficult plays possible. Moments where they seemed to get more wrapped up in out-macho-ing their opponent than in actually beating them.

But that last 10 minutes…whoooooo boy…that wiped out any bad moments. Playing a significant chunk of that time without Landen Lucas on the court, they absolutely trounced Michigan State. They out-Izzoed the Izzos in March. They stepped on the gas and kept the pedal planted until the final horn.

In some ways, it was Frank Mason’s worst game in a long time. He seemed to get too wrapped up in the “banter” with the MSU players. There was a stretch in the second half where he seemed to give up on his teammates and played a little out-of-control. He didn’t hit a 3-pointer. And yet, he was still right at 20 points, had a few huge drives for scores when KU took the game over, and found Devonte Graham, who was hitting from 3, for two huge treys late.

Oh, and how about Josh Jackson? Way too sped up early. But once he settled… As I texted to some friends during the second half, he was fucking filthy in the second half. The step-back three he hit was a thing of beauty. He hit several other nice Js, and the turn-around bank shot he hit in the first half was amazing. Throw in an emphatic dunk that sealed the win and you had a pretty fantastic day for the freshman.

Now KU enters the Sweet 16 averaging 95 points through two games, which no KU team has ever done in the NCAA tournament. I think most KU fans are feeling pretty good about the team today.

The Sweet 16 matchup is fascinating. Purdue is very big. Caleb Swanigan is one of the 4–5 best players in the game right now. They have a bunch of shooters around him that make it almost impossible to double him. But Purdue has struggled with teams that have quick guards all year. Although I didn’t get to see it, I gather Purdue was extremely fortunate to get past Iowa State Saturday night. Now they have to play a team that’s similar to Iowa State in front of a very partisan crowd. Plus their opponent can match Swanigan with two of the other 4–5 best players in the game.

Today, I like our chances. I think we can run those bigs into the ground. If we hit shots, and if Josh Jackson keeps playing at the level he’s been at, KU wins. KU’s not played anyone like Purdue this year, though. They’ve beaten several teams that were clearly bigger than them, notably Duke and Kentucky. But Indiana’s Thomas Bryant is a little like Swanigan, and he beat up KU pretty good. It was James Blackmon that won that game, though, not Bryant. KU will have to keep Swanigan’s supporting cast in check.

Thursday morning, I bet I feel a lot less confident than I do right now.

The most important thing is that the Jayhawks are still dancing. Sweet 16 week is the best week of the tournament for real hoops fans – if your team is still in the tournament. It’s all about basketball now. Instead of dreaming of winning six games, now you’re focused on winning two to get to the Final Four. It was a good first weekend. It’s time for a great second weekend.

It looks like Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, and Dan Bonner will follow the Jayhawks to KC. For the most part, I approve. They were pretty good in Tulsa. If Dan Bonner could just cut his guffawing laughter they might be perfect. This is a complaint I’ve had for roughly 20 years. He’s a really good analyst, but that laughter has got to go.

Swanigan is viewed by many as the savior of the Purdue program. But he was awfully close to going to Michigan State, changing his commitment at the very last minute. Imagine if he had been on last year’s Michigan State team. They probably don’t lose in the first round of the tournament. They may very well have won it all. Would he be back for his sophomore year had that happened? Might Josh Jackson have picked Michigan State if he had been there? Might Purdue have fired Matt Painter by now if he hadn’t nabbed Swanigan?

Hey, three Big 12 teams in the Sweet 16! Came awfully close to it being four. I think conference loyalty is dumb, but hopefully West Virginia and Baylor advancing makes KU’s regular season accomplishments look better. Those teams were, after all, both four games behind KU in the conference standings. I think Baylor might have the best chance to get through this weekend of the three teams. But it’s not like they played great the first weekend, so that’s based more on them being in the decimated east region that their play. All that matters is that they’re still playing, though. Scott Drew can silence a lot of critics next weekend.

Tourney Notes, Weekend Warp Part 1

A much, much better weekend of hoops after a ho-hum first two days of the tournament.

Quick catch up for Saturday. Although I lost my runner-up, I was just fine with Villanova going out. I’m in a weird place with ‘Nova. I’ve watched them quite a bit since Butler joined the Big East, and I’ve always been impressed with the Wildcats’ incredible toughness. They just hang in, wear down, and wear out their opponents. They don’t get rattled by runs or calls or the score. They just out-work their opponents for 40 minutes. I admire the hell out of the program for the way Jay Wright seems to get all his players to buy into that concept. I hated that they knocked KU out of the tournament last year, but they were one of those teams I didn’t mind losing to.

For as much as I admire their toughness, though, watching them play isn’t always the most exciting way to spend a couple hours. They aren’t quite Virginia dull, but neither are they electric. The thing that bugs me the most about them, though, is how similar they are to West Virginia on defense. They don’t do the crazy, full-court pressing for 40 minutes that WVU does. Rather, it’s how intensely physical they play, and how they force the refs to decide early on whether to call the game tight and foul out their entire team, or let them just hammer people and swallow the whistle. All these changes in defensive rule interpretations in recent years have been aimed at keeping the defense off their opponents. You have to move your feet, not grab and tug. And Villanova grabs and tugs all night. It’s tough to watch when you know other games are called completely differently.

I’m no fan of Wisconsin, and the loss wrecked my bracket, but I was just fine with Villanova being the first #1 seed to get ousted.

I missed almost all of the other Saturday action between running around during the day and going out to dinner in the evening. Sounds like the Purdue – Iowa State game was kind of awesome. I could not believe the Xavier – Florida State score. I did not see the controversial end of the Gonzaga – Northwestern game. And I only saw bits of the Notre Dame – West Virginia game. My big takeaway from all those games: big time props to West Virginia for having the entire team wear one kind of shoe! That just doesn’t happen anymore, and I thought it was awesome. Even better, they were very distinctive shoes.

Oh, I guess the biggest thing Saturday was the shocking news that Brad Underwood was leaving Oklahoma State for Illinois. Apparently it all came down to respect and money. Man, if I’m OSU, I’m doing all I can to keep that guy happy and in charge of my team. I know, theoretically, Illinois is a better job. It’s not a football school, so if you get that program rolling you’re going to be king of the campus. You’re set squarely in the middle of three large cities that should be filed with talent in Chicago, St. Louis, and Indianapolis, and can realistically stock your team with talent without ever getting on a plane.

But Illinois hasn’t been good for awhile. Chicago doesn’t seem as deep with talent as it once was. St. Louis isn’t a great basketball town. And, at the very best, you’re going to be the 5th or 6th choice of kids in Indy. I wonder if it’s as good a job as we assume it is.

I think I’d take my chances at OSU. Hey, OSU, I’m fine with $2.9 million/year!

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday. Man, what a day!

First off we had Michigan and Louisville. I, like a lot of folks, thought Michigan had done their thing in the Big 10 tournament and were cooked. I had them losing to Oklahoma State, which admittedly was a homer pick. But the Wolverines are becoming scary. John Beilein is one of the most underrated coaches in the country. When he gets the talent to match his system, his teams are awesome. I’m not sure what took them so long to click this year, but they look incredible right now. I was worried that, should KU win three games, they would have to face a long, fast, athletic Louisville squad. Maybe I should have been more worried about Michigan.

Then we got Wichita State – Kentucky. Just a fantastic game. For a lot of reasons, I do not like Gregg Marshall. But that guy can coach. Much like Jay Wright, he’s set that program up so regardless of who is on the roster, the team always plays with the same mentality. And they are never scared of the opponent, no matter what their pedigree is. That guard from KC had himself a hell of a day.

You have to give Kentucky credit, though, for how they played the last two possessions defensively. No matter what the Marshall family might say, those were awesome efforts.

Despite their talent, I can’t decide how good this Kentucky team really is. I kind of love that the 2012 team has ruined all these one-and-done teams for Kentucky fans. Well, the 2014 team was awesome, of course. But they lost before completing the perfect season, and will forever be seen as disappointments. Aside from them, these teams always feel like failures if they don’t live up to the preseason hype completely. This team could make it to Glendale, they could win the whole thing. But they feel like a team you just keep expecting to NOT make the plays they need to win tough games. Maybe Sunday was a moment where they develop the confidence to do that.

Hey, speaking of disappointments, let’s jump to the night session and South Carolina – Duke. You know, Duke, the most talented team in the country? The hottest team in the country? The team that no one wanted to play? The team that had a gilded path to the title game? Yep, that team got its ass kicked in the second half by a school that had just won its first tournament game in over a generation on Friday. Every second of that game was thoroughly satisfying to watch.

I know, I know, Henry Giles was never healthy this year. I feel sorry for that kid, who came in with so much hype and seems more like the next Greg Oden or Joel Embiid and will never be healthy enough to fulfill his promise. And Duke had a couple other players who didn’t live up to their recruiting rankings. But they were still immensely talented even with those losses. South Carolina has some really nice parts, and you know Frank Martin’s team is going to guard the hell out of the ball. Not a game Duke should have lost, let alone by the final margin.

Weird how Coach K, who was once the most consistent tournament coach in the game and never lost early, has become a feast or famine guy. I think that’s way more a reflection of the spread of talent through the game, the risks that come with stocking your team with one-and-done kids, and the pure chance of the tournament than anything K is doing wrong. But I enjoy it and will mock him for it regardless.

Jumping back to the early game in Greenville, North Carolina was incredibly lucky to advance. I think most of the blame goes to Arkansas, who had a series of absolutely dreadful possessions on offense late in the game. You can’t stand around for 25 second, throw up a guarded 23-footer, and hope to close out a team like Carolina. But that sequence where the referees blew two calls that went against Arkansas was huge, too. I have no idea how they could spend three minutes looking at a replay that clearly showing a Carolina player touching the ball and then give it to the Heels. Were they not looking at an HD monitor? And then the no-call when Joel Berry charged, travelled, and then passed for a basket was massive. You have to call something there. I would have even been fine with a block on Arkansas. But to have three refs stand there and watch a kid take four steps after he put his shoulder into a defender’s chest and not blow their whistles was terrible.

Carolina was immensely lucky.

This seems like a pretty solid start, so I’ll save the KU words for a separate post.

Tourney Notes, Day 4

The least entertaining first round of the NCAA tournament in recent memory is in the books.[1] There were some solid games, but a shockingly low number of upsets. And only a handful of “text all your friends and tell them to turn game X on immediately” moments.

KU rolled. Which was good. They did exactly what I expected them to do: look sloppy early then settle down and lay the wood. There are zero complaints after game one, other than the officiating. That was like high school officiating, where they know the game is a mismatch and generally try to get it over as quickly as possible. Devonte Graham getting destroyed on the final play of the first half and the ref standing right next to him doing nothing was just the worst example of a rough night for the zebras.

Which brings us to a non-KU point: in general refs seem to be letting the kids play. Which for the most part is good. But I’ve seen contact that has been a foul for the last four months go without a whistle time-and-again through the first two days. Players get upset, coaches get upset. Iowa State fans booing even when their team isn’t playing. I get it, no one wants to watch games where the best players are on the bench because of foul trouble. But while it’s one thing to relax things a little, it seems like we’ve gone way too far the other way. Of course, now that I’ve typed that, refs will probably be whistle-happy for the second round.

Back to KU, I think the big thing in the first game was to get guys who need a confidence boost some success so they’re ready to go for the next round. The team seemed to be making a concerted effort to get Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk shots. And he kept clanking wide-open looks. But then anytime he had to put the ball on the deck, or take an off-balance shot, he swished them. Weird, since he’s always been a much better spot-up shooter than one who could connect off the bounce. Regardless, for KU to go deep he’s going to have to hit some shots and I think last night helped. Carlton Bragg was another story. He’s a kid who just hasn’t been right all year. He should have dominated against the smaller UC Davis frontline last night and other than a couple strong rebounds, he continued to struggle. Maybe he was saving it for Sunday.

Because, just freaking great, Michigan State looked awesome against Miami. They have a ton of talent, but have never put it together consistently this season. But, man, did they look good Friday. Which brings us a round of 32 game between Tom Izzo, probably the best March coach in the game, and Bill Self, a guy who has certainly had his struggles in this round over the years. I had a doctor appointment yesterday morning and my blood pressure checked out just fine. I imagine that will not be the case Sunday.

There were a couple great games Friday. Oklahoma State – Michigan was spectacular. I know, neither team played much defense. But the offense was breath taking. Jawun Evans showing America what the Big 12 has known a long time. And then Michigan hit pretty much everything they threw up in the second half. It was back-and-forth fun for the full 40 minutes. Shame Evans missed that free throw late.

The other highly entertaining game was USC – SMU. It wasn’t quite as high level as OSU-UM, but there were a ton of athletes on the floor making plays the entire game. Big runs both ways. USC building some mystique as comeback kids. And some really curious decisions by SMU in the last minute to not let their best player touch the ball once on their final three possessions. The Mustangs lost in controversial fashion two years ago. Now they blew this game. Coincidence? Only the Hoops Gods know.[2]

I missed the end of the Arkansas – Seton Hall game when I was out picking up the kids. Apparently there was some controversy there.

I only caught the latter part of Wichita State – Dayton, which was the complete opposite of OSU-UM on the same court earlier in the day. Just ugly ball, but the Wheat Shockers made all the plays late. I picked Dayton, thinking that while the Wheat Shockers are a good team, they’re not nearly as good as they were the past four years. Should they have been a 10-seed? No. But all this “They’re a four seed” talk is nonsense. Look who they played and beat this year. That’s not a 4-seed resume. But I guess they showed me. And with Kentucky having an unexpectedly tough time with Northern Kentucky, the rematch from three years ago in St. Louis could be something else tomorrow.

I’m already pretty sick of every commercial that is in high rotation. They now become harder to avoid as the games thin out and, often, there is just a single game at a time.

Current KU Mood: Glad we got the expected blowout in without any injuries. Not thrilled about playing the Fighting Izzos, but I think I’d rather play them than Miami. MSU has tons of talent, but as I said earlier, has been erratic all year. Are they righting into form, or was last night an aberration? I thought Michigan State was the more dangerous team because their ceiling is higher. But I also really liked the experienced vets vs. young kids angle this brings. And I think Miami, having beaten both Carolina and Duke this year, would enter the game with zero fear.

I never wrote about the national reaction to KU’s bracket, which I thought was interesting. Mark Titus listed KU as the team that got most screwed in the Midwest. You all know how I like Titus, and it’s firmly established that he watches about 99% of all televised college basketball. Plus he played, so I trust his opinion. Then I’ve read other writers say that KU has a cakewalk to the Final Four. Most of those are guys who don’t focus exclusively on college hoops, so I question their views. But the main writer for the Lawerence paper loved the way the bracket set up for KU in each round.

Those varying opinions don’t do much for my swinging emotions. At the moment I’m pretty steady and fairly confident about tomorrow. $20 says I’m in a very different place tomorrow.

We have dinner plans this evening, so I’ll miss a good chunk of the games. So we’ll see if I have enough thoughts to share tomorrow morning.

  1. Fuck you, NCAA, for insisting this is the second round. The First Four is not the first round, no matter how many times you claim it is.  ↩
  2. Actually we all know. Ball don’t lie when it comes to academic scandals.  ↩
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