Month: March 2018 (Page 1 of 3)

KU Hoops: 8s and 4s

Some week.

We’ve had a stomach bug run through the house. There’s been plenty of middle-of-the-night puking and I’ve had a sick kid home three different days. As I mentioned yesterday, the weather has been strange, careening between February snows and April showers. We are hosting our family Easter celebration on Saturday, so in between dealing with kids I’ve been trying to get the house prepped. It was also kickball jersey week, so our bonus room has piles of uniforms I’ve sorted out for St. P’s five spring teams.

Oh, and then there are the hoops.

It’s been a fine week to be a KU fan. I’ve spent approximately 87 hours reading articles, posts, and Tweets about last Sunday’s Duke game and tomorrow’s Villanova game. I’ve watched countless videos of celebrations by the team after the Duke game, the fantastic footage of kids running at full speed to get from campus to Mass Street after the game, and highlight packages.

Usually during Final Four week, I’m focused on what is ahead. But this week has been a long look back at how this team came together over the last month or so to play their best ball of the year in the season’s biggest moment. I hope the team isn’t suffering from the same hangover of the Duke game that us fans seem to be afflicted with. But as a fan it is hard not to want to hold on to one of the best games in the history of the program.

I wanted to try to put the Duke game in perspective. There is a fundamental difference between a great game in December and one in March. Those December games can be immense fun, but win or lose, there is another game a few days later. March’s win or go home nature adds at least 25% to every emotion surrounding the games played then. So I figured I’d compare it to KU games in March over the years. Even that felt too broad, though. So I decided to take the years that KU has made the Final Four in my fan life and compare the Duke game to the Elite 8 game in each of those years. Turns out there are some doozies.

Ranked, in reverse order, here’s how they stack up to me:

  • 9 – NC State, 1986. I really don’t remember this game that well. I know KU came back from a deficit in the second half, Danny Manning was huge late, and Jim Valvano mock complained about having to play in Kansas City. But the bigger game that year was the overtime win over Michigan State in the Sweet 16.

  • 8 – Davidson, 2008. Despite what happened in San Antonio the next weekend, I still hate this game. This, infamously, was the game that made me flip out. When Davidson took a 7-point lead midway through the second half, I just could not deal with KU losing in the Elite 8 again. I turned the TV off, got in my car, and drove aimlessly, avoiding the game until I began getting texts from happy/relieved KU fans after Davidson’s potential game-winner missed.

  • 7 – Indiana, 1993. Felt bigger at the time. It was a really good game that KU took control of in the last 10 minutes with a few huge defensive plays and some back-breaking 3-pointers. But compared to others on this list, it doesn’t hold up as well.

  • 6 – Oregon, 2002. Oregon decided they wanted to run with the Jayhawks. Then they got run out of the building. This was the game I invented my patented “Run around the house and act like a fool” celebration when KU was kicking ass.

  • 5 – Kansas State, 1988. Mitch Richmond and the Cats had ended KU’s 55 game home winning streak six weeks earlier. Paybacks are a bitch.

  • 4 – Arizona, 2003. Back-to-back Final Fours by beating one of KU’s biggest non-conference rivals of that era was great. This was a terrific game, too, going down to the final seconds. KU also got revenge for a 20-point loss to Arizona earlier in the season.

  • 3 – UNC, 2012. Beating Roy is always fresh. To do so with a junk defense he couldn’t figure out and by out-toughing his team in crunch time was even better. Elijah Johnson’s 3-pointer with about 2:00 left broke a tie and kicked off a 12–0 closing run. We watched this game outside in Kansas City with friends on an absolutely perfect day. And the next day, while driving back to Indy, we saw a parade of happy Jayhawk cars returning from St. Louis. Along with last week’s game, probably the best KU has ever played in an Elite 8.

  • 2 – Arkansas, 1991. The first Elite 8 of my college years, and it was an incredible game. #1 seed Arkansas had been killing people all year with their 40 Minutes of Hell attack. The first half went according to plan and the Hogs led by 12 at the break. But KU wiped out that lead before the first TV timeout, took control in the final four minutes, and inspired guard Adonis Jordan’s classic line that evening when the team returned to a packed Allen Fieldhouse, “We down by 12, we win by 12!”

  • 1 – Duke, 2018. Yes, recently bias is a bitch. But that was the best game of the tournament, KU beat a team with more talent that was also favored, they beat Duke/Coach K, the game went to OT, and this is arguably the weakest team of the Bill Self era, yet they did something the 2004, 2007, 2011, 2016, and 2017 teams could not do. All the good feelings.

What about tomorrow? KU-Villanova is a fascinating match up because the teams have so many similarities with some glaring points of difference. Both teams like to shoot the 3, and do so well. Both teams are efficient on offense. Both teams can play good D but neither plays the level of defense their programs are traditionally known for.

Villanova flat can’t guard Udoka Azubuike. But Udoka can’t chase Omari Spellman around the arc, either. How each team manages the other’s big man will go a long way in determining who wins.

But I think it will come down to the most basic thing in basketball: making shots. I bet casual fans would love it if both teams come out firing and hitting and get to see an exciting shootout. I think there’s about a 25% chance of that. I think it is far more likely one team hits and the other doesn’t. I worry KU will be the team that doesn’t hit, as Devonté Graham has been ice cold since the first half of the Penn game and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk has been streaky as hell lately. Even with Malik Newman’s tear over the past three weeks, is that enough if he doesn’t get help? I think Nova is more likely to have 2–3 guys all hitting.

But…Bill Self and his staff tend to do a great job finding ways to attack other teams when given a week to game plan. Will he be able to limit Villanova on offense while making sure his guys get shots of their own?

But…Villanova is super experienced and will not be phased by whatever KU throws at them. They seemed to be losing contact with West Virginia last week and then flipped a switch and blew the Mountaineers out in the last 5:00. Some of the things that worked last week on a very young Duke team will not work on Brunson, Booth, etc.

Villanova is the best team in the country. They’re tough, have been through dozens of battles in the last three years, and are well coached. KU had to play a nearly perfect game last week and still needed overtime to beat Duke. KU has to play a completely perfect game tomorrow to even have a chance of winning.

I hope they have it in them.

Friday Vid

“Devil Inside” – INXS. Only a video this week. I have plenty of music backed up I could share, but I also have a very busy day lined up in preparation for our family Easter celebration tomorrow. The girls also get out of school early today and we’re watching one of my nephews after that, so this will have to do.

This song was selected with a definite reason. In the spring of 1988, one of my best friends from my middle school years, who had moved to St. Louis, came back for the weekend. We spent Saturday driving around visiting friends, dropping in at a mall to eat at the food court, and generally just wasting time and gas. I was obsessed with this song that weekend, so we did the thing where you listen to it, pop the tape out and flip it over listening to the song that is directly opposite, then flipping it back over and listening to it again. I swear we did that 800 times that day. It was probably more like eight or nine but still…

Anyway, after we finished our wanderings we went back to my house and watched KU play Duke in the national semifinal. KU won, then won the national title on Monday. I figure if I need some good music karma for this weekend, this just might be the song to provide it.

R’s: Opening Day

In the past week we’ve had more snow combined that we had received all winter. Four inches fell last Thursday followed by over six inches Saturday.[1] In each case the snow melted quickly. Thursday it was all gone before the girls got home from school. Saturday’s snow was almost completely gone by Sunday evening. Now we’ve transitioned into warmer days – at least into the 50s – but it is dark and dreary and the land is saturated from seven days of melting snow and rain.

Makes a man feel like it’s time for baseball season!

My enthusiasm for baseball is not what it has been in recent years. I’m still focused on college hoops for a few more days, obviously. And the Royals window of opportunity has closed. Worse, the team can’t figure out what to do next. They went for “value signings” over the winter and have a team that, on paper, doesn’t look terrible. But it also doesn’t look great, and seems destined to win at most between 70–75 games. Not good enough to compete, not bad enough to be in full rebuilding mode yet.

Dayton Moore deserves an immense amount of credit for building a team that went to two-straight World Series. When you do that, you earn a lot of leeway in how to do your job. Still, I’m not sure I love him being in charge of the next Royals rebuild. The minor league system is already pretty lean but he’s putting off the total gut for at least one off-season. I don’t know that I agree with that strategy. And given how few major leaguers the system has produced since the championship core came up, I have concerns about Dayton and his scouts’ evaluation abilities.

Unless there is some dramatic shift in how baseball revenues are divided up or a change in how the Glass family is willing to spend money, the Royals have to build with young talent. That’s what they did in the first part of this decade. I don’t understand why you delay hitting the reset button to get that process going again. Especially in a division that should be won by one of the best teams in baseball (Cleveland) and also has a team that is both filled with young talent and made some strong moves to fortify that talent in the winter (Minnesota). The AL Central is not up for grabs. Nabbing a Wild Card spot would require a massive amount of good luck for the Royals and bad luck for at least five other teams.

Salvador Perez tearing up his knee this week and taking him off the field for 4–6 weeks is not a promising start.

I think the Royals could – could – have decent starting pitching. It looks like a staff where every guy can go on a 3–4 start roll where things are working and they only give up 2–3 runs a night. But I also worry about the health of most of them, and every dude is also capable of getting into ruts where they can’t make it through three innings for a few weeks in a row.

The once vaunted Royals bullpen is a mystery. Maybe Kelvin Herrera settles down this year and sets a standard that knocks everyone else into place. But I see too many arms that have struggled in the past joined by too many unknowns to have much confidence in that group.

The lineup is full of question marks, too. Whit Merrifield seems like the only sure bet, and that’s based on a single season of big league performance. Can Moose stay healthy? Will Salvy get healthy? Is Alcides Escobar’s modest goal of getting on base 30% of the time doable? Can Jorge Soler harness his immense potential? Can Lucas Duda be a poor-man’s Eric Hosmer? And can poor Alex Gordon provide anything at all at the plate?[2]

A lot has been made of the Royals late winter signings and how they added some “professional hitters” to the lineup. We’ll see if those are enough to keep the team in the window of mediocrity.

I really hope all those elements come together and the Royals can stay in the 70s for wins. It’s really going to suck if they don’t and the team ends up being shitty without having gone all-in with the rebuild. I think most Royals fans were prepared to accept bad baseball if it meant young talent would begin flowing into the system. Without that influx already in place, this will feel like an empty, wasted year that put off the chance to compete another year without making any progress toward that goal.

I’m still downloading the MLB apps onto all my devices this morning, though. I will be listening as the Royals open things against the White Sox this afternoon. And I’m sure they’re still going to be the soundtrack of my summer, even if the goals are a lot more modest than they have been in half a decade.

As for predictions, I haven’t paid close attention to spring break stories around the league, so I’m not sure how great these are going to be.

AL East: New York
AL Central: Cleveland
AL West: Houston
AL Wild Cards: Boston, Minnesota

NL East: Washington
NL Central: Chicago
NL West: Los Angeles
NL Wildcards: Milwaukee, St. Louis

  1. The Indy airport got 10.2” Saturday, making it the sixth snowiest recorded day in Indy history, which is nuts.  ↩
  2. Man, Alex…I feel like Royals fans are going to spend the summer hanging their heads after his at bats, wanting to curse him but refusing because of what he’s meant to the franchise.  ↩

Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 5

Chart Week: March 8, 1986
Song: “Kyrie” – Mr. Mister
Chart Position: #1, 12th week on the chart, second week at #1.

One of my favorite things to do when I hear old music is consider artists who had really brief, but really amazing runs. “Did so-and-so have the best year ever?” I’ll ask myself when I hear a song by an artist who was massive for a few months and then disappeared.

One of the best artists to do this with is Mr. Mister. They were a mostly unknown band with one single that had peaked at 57 on the Hot 100 before the fall of 1985 rolled around. Then, over a nine-month stretch, they were as big as any band in the world. After that, they pretty much disappeared.

The run began with “Broken Wings.” Released in September of 1985, it topped the charts for two weeks that November. Next up was “Kyrie,” which also spent two weeks at #1. From October ’85 through April of ’86, Mr. Mister was inescapable on pop radio. The strength of those two singles pushed the band’s second album, Welcome to the Real World, to #1 on the album chart as well. Eventually it sold over a million copies in the US. A third single, the perfectly fine “Is It Love,” peaked at #8 on the Billboard charts in July of 1986.

The band did have another Top 40 hit, 1987’s “Something Real,” which stalled out at #29. But I almost guarantee none of you remember that. I don’t remember it, and I pride myself on remembering obscure songs by bands that had one or two huge hits.

That was a pretty solid run. And I bet Richard Page and the rest of the band had a thoroughly incredible 1986, as they toured the world opening for Tina Turner, got fat checks for their songs topping the charts, and did an endless series of interviews with TV and print journalists who wanted to know their story. I bet the women around them were a lot hotter, the cocaine a little purer, and the pre-show catering a little bit nicer when they were on top of the world.

Other artists had better and bigger music years in the 1980s. Michael Jackson in 1983. Prince and Bruce in 1984. Madonna in 1985. But those were all massive stars that remained massive stars. Mr. Mister’s 1985–86 could be one of the best stand-alone years of the decade.

We like to make fun of artists like Mr. Mister, who made music that seemed perfectly suited for a specific moment but were unable to adjust as time passed. But how many artists would give anything to have one top ten hit, let alone three, including two #1’s, from a single album? Yep, the Mr. Mister guys are laughing last.

Quick trivia from this countdown: Casey shared that lead single Richard Page was offered the frontman spots in both Toto and Chicago after each of those bands lost their lead singers in the mid–80s. But he chose to stick with the band he had started years earlier. Smart move. I’m sure he’d rather look back on his success with Mr. Mister than have spent years singing other people’s songs with Toto or Chicago.

Reader’s Notebook, 3/27/18

It’s pouring rain outside, I have a sick kid on the couch, so today seems like a good day to get caught up on books.

Round Ireland with a Fridge – Tony Hawks.
This was a timely read, found at the library on a shelf of books pulled in advance of the St. Patrick’s Day holiday. It is exactly what its title claims to be: the story of a trip around Ireland with a refrigerator.

Hawks is a British comedian who, while traveling in Ireland in the early 90s, saw a man on the side of the road hitchhiking with a full-sized fridge next to him. The image stuck with Hawks and became his go-to story at parties. Fast forward a few years and after a night on which many drinks were finished and many stories told, Hawks wakes to find a note that he had bet a friend 100 pounds that he could hitchhike all the way around Ireland with a fridge of his own.

Uh oh.

Well, Hawks pulls it off. He takes a more modestly sized dorm fridge with him. And after speaking with the DJ on one of the most listened to morning shows across Ireland, he gets help in his efforts from folks who have heard his story on the radio. Along the way he meets a King, takes the fridge surfing, nervously passes through Northern Ireland,[1] has the fridge blessed and named in Gaelic, and makes dozens of friendships along the way.

This is a ridiculous, funny book. What struck me most was the sense of community, both large and small, shared by the book. Hawks is a stranger in each town he stops in, but is always warmly welcomed with a pint and a stool at the bar. And people in all parts of Ireland are aware of his story because of a radio program, a concept that seems hopelessly out-dated today.

Ten Years in the Tub – Nick Hornby.
About 30 minutes after finishing Hawks’ book, I polished off the final two entries in this collection of Hornby’s Believer “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” columns. The next morning I bragged to the girls that I had finished two books in half an hour. They were not impressed.

I’ve already written about this book, so no need to go into details. It was interesting to read Hornby’s observations about things that were going on in the world, and that influenced his reading choices, over the 13 or so years covered by this collection. It’s span included the war in Iraq and protests against it, terror attacks in London, several soccer World Cups, the London Olympics, and the election of Barack Obama among other things. While those events were rarely the center of his monthly columns – World Cups excepted; he pretty much did not read during World Cup months – he still references then often enough that they are significant to the book’s impact.

I’ve already finished one book recommended in these pages, am still working my way through the Y: The Last Man comic series,[2] and have 10 more books in my To Read list courtesy of Hornby’s recommendations. This was a productive read.

The Spaceman of Bohemia – Jaroslav Kalfar
My highly acclaimed novel of the month, this debut by the Czech-born Kalfar got a lot of praise when it came out a year ago and landed on several Best Of lists for 2017.

It is the somewhat ridiculous tale of Jakub Prochazka, a Czech scientist who is recruited as the country’s first astronaut and given a mission of flying out into space for nearly eight months to explore a mysterious storm that has turned the earth’s sky purple but otherwise has not caused any ill effects. During his four-month solo trip out to the cloud, called Chopra, Prochazka slowly breaks down mentally. The required video conferences with interested citizens back on earth weigh on him; the private video conferences with his wife, which began with nudity and sex, have become tense; his body is showing signs of deterioration; and there’s a weird noise in his space ship that he can never quite find but gives him the impression that he is being watched.

One day his wife fails to arrive for their scheduled conference and disappears without anyone back in the Czech Republic knowing where she has gone to. At the same time, that mysterious sound reveals itself as a stowaway from another galaxy who is deeply interested in Prochazka’s deepest thoughts and memories for insight into “humanry.” From that being’s probings we learn of Prochazka’s childhood. We see how he and his wife met and fell in love. We see how he was recruited and trained for his current occupation.

The book turns on two major moments. First, Prochazka’s space craft begins to break apart when it enters Chopra. But he is rescued just before his oxygen runs out by a secret Russian mission that was trailing him. Then, as they approach earth, he is informed that he will be placed in a secret settlement for political prisoners. As the Russian mission was part of a secret program, they can’t reveal its existence by presenting him for display to the world. Longing to find his wife, Prochazka takes dramatic steps to make sure the Russians can not deliver him to their government.

The book closes with Prochazka attempting to reunite with his wife before realizing that is not possible and being forced to create a whole new life for himself on his grandparent’s abandoned farm.

Kalfar infuses this book with humor and heart. The being that occupies Prochazka’s ship is one of the more interesting and charming characters I’ve read recently. And it seemed to me that Kalfar raised interesting questions about relationships between family members, how those relationships affect who we are, and whether our pasts build inescapable paths for our futures. But I’m not sure it all quite worked. I was left wondering if I missed how to connect all those parts together or if they simply don’t fit together. For plot alone, it’s worth the read. And perhaps others will find the links to those questions that I missed.

  1. This was in 1999, and the borderlands between Ireland and Northern Ireland were still a dangerous place.  ↩
  2. I finished books 5 and 6 last week.  ↩

KU Hoops: Final Four, Fools!

It’s a little after 11:00 Sunday night as I begin this post. I just watched the replay of today’s Midwest Regional final, or at least the last five or so minutes of regulation plus overtime, on the CBS Sports Network.[1] I’ve been texting, emailing, and reading coverage of that game since it wrapped up in real time. I’ve just poured some celebratory bourbon. What better time than now to start putting words down about my Jayhawks getting back to the Final Four?


Man, what a freaking great game. No, I would not be saying that if KU had lost. Which would make me a hypocrite. All year I’ve been saying that if KU made it to the second weekend of the tournament, I would be fine with however the season ended. And for years I’ve said I just once wanted KU to play well in a tournament loss. If Grayson Allen’s last-second shot in regulation had crawled in – and how in the hell did that not go in???[2] – if I was a man of my word I would have been fine with the result. KU played a fabulous game and it came down to a tough-ass shot dropping at the very end.

Nope. I would have been devastated. That game would have utterly crushed me. It would have passed VCU as the worst March loss ever for KU. I would have fallen to the floor and not moved until S came down and asked me if I was ok sometime Monday morning.

Why the change in reaction? Because KU had that damn game won and then seemingly pissed it away. They had two seven point leads in the second half. At the 7:30 mark they had a five-point lead, got a steal, and had Malik Newman and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk behind the defense for an easy layup. Devonté Graham tossed the ball up court, but too far and it rolled out of bounds. During the TV timeout that immediately followed, I had flashbacks to the 1996 regional final against Syracuse. With KU leading by 5 or 6 at about the same point, Billy Thomas got behind the Syracuse D on a break and had a dead, unguarded layup. He put the ball off his foot out-of-bounds and Syracuse came back and won. Fuck me.


KU went through a four-minute stretch where they missed six straight 3-point shots. Only one of those was guarded. Devonte, for some reason, hoisted up a 30-footer early in the shot clock. Svi missed two where there was no one within five feet of him. With a minute left, down three, Malik pulled up from 25-feet and missed. I fell back into the couch and felt a pain in my stomach. The game was over.

Only it wasn’t. Silvio De Sousa nudged Wendell Carter Jr. just far enough from the basket to force his shot to come up short and grabbed the rebound. Devonte juked Gary Trent Jr, spun away, nearly fell, was likely fouled by Trevon Duval, but somehow tossed the ball out to Svi, who calmly took one dribble and stepped into the biggest shot of his life.

Bang, tie game!

It felt a little like the legendary Chop play run at the end of regulation in San Antonio 10 years ago, when Sherron Collins was likely fouled by Derrick Rose but somehow got the ball to Mario Chalmers as he was falling down. You all know what happened next.

Still, KU had to survive Grayson’s hero-boy attempts.


Then it was time for Malik to shine. A personal 13–9 run put the game away.

He had a lot of help though. For a team that has been maligned over-and-over for not being good on defense, KU made a ton of huge defensive plays late in the game. They rebounded their asses off all day, somehow grabbing 15 more boards than Duke, who normally out-rebound their opponents by 10.

Svi has not guarded anyone in the four years he’s been at KU. Somehow he limited Marvin Bagley III from being the decisive player. Svi, the guy that teams mercilessly isolated and drove for buckets or fouls just a year ago. Dude played his ass off. The tying shot was just the icing on the cake for him.

That effort highlighted what a great game this was for Bill Self. The last two years we’ve heard how Self is always tight in the Elite 8, thus his teams play tight, thus they lose more often than not. He had an incredible game plan. He made great adjustments throughout the game. This was his finest March effort ever.

But the players deserve the credit. It would not matter how great Self’s game plan was if they didn’t execute it. Svi slowing Bagley, Lagerald Vick continuing his hot streak, the entire team committing to rebounding, the new approach to attacking a zone, De Sousa out-playing Duke’s bigs in overtime. All of that was because of execution. They could have easily screwed all that up, or just missed shots all day, and then we’d be talking about another Bill Self collapse in the Elite 8 and how Coach K coached circles around him.[3]


But it worked and the Jayhawks are going back to San Antonio, the site of Self’s biggest triumph.[4] Waiting is Villanova, the team that knocked KU out two years ago in the Elite 8. The Wildcats are already 5.5 point favorites. That’s great. They will have KU’s attention. As Self said today after the game, he thought his players were very much focused on beating Duke, not worrying about the implications of the win. I don’t think KU will be looking ahead next Saturday night.

So now another week to keep healing Udoka Azubuike. Another week to try to figure out what’s up with Devonte. I think he has to be injured; he’s looked like a completely different player the last three games, bricking shots, getting roasted on defense, making uncharacteristic turnovers. I’m hopefully it’s something nagging that will be better by Saturday night and not something we’ll hear about him having surgery for in two weeks. A full week to prep for likely the most complete and best team in the country after beating the most talented team in the country.


Plenty of time to work up nerves and angst about that. Tonight, I know this group gets their own banner, something a KU team hasn’t done since T-Rob, Tyshawn, Elijah, T-Rel, and Withey got their squad to New Orleans.

Rock Chalk, bitches!

  1. I really wish while watching the replay I could also hear a replay of all the things I was screaming during the actual game. Here’s a rough list of the things I yelled: “Yes!” “YES!” “YEEEESSSSSS!!!!!” “Come on, D!” “Would you get a smart shot, please?” “Could you please stop missing wide-open looks?” “That is totally a foul!” “No way is that a foul!” “White ball!” “YYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEESSSSS!” “MALIKKKKKKK” You get the picture.  ↩
  2. The Hoops Gods make their presence known! No way were they letting Grayson get his team to the Final Four after all his nonsense over the years. That’s the only rational explanation for his shot hitting the rim five times, and being inside the ring twice, yet somehow falling off.  ↩
  3. K is the greatest coach of all time. Letting Allen isolate over and over late in the game was a gift to KU. Duke took their lead by running screen and rolls and getting the ball to their bigs on the move. KU had no chance in those sets. But K let Grayson keep chucking. A grateful KU fan base thanks you, Coach K!  ↩
  4. And also his worst March defeat, that dreaded VCU game in 2011.  ↩

Still Ballin’

An Elite 8 with two Kansas teams in it is enough to earn a very rare Saturday post. Mark down the date, folks, because these don’t happen very often!

First off, the important stuff: the Jayhawks are in the Elite 8 for the third-straight season, the second time in school history they have done that (2002–2004). In both of those runs, the third team was clearly the weakest of each group. In 2004 that “weaker” team lost to a higher seeded ACC team, #3 Georgia Tech, in overtime in St. Louis. This year’s team gets to face a lower seeded ACC team, #2 Duke, in Omaha. That Georgia Tech game is one of only two games Bill Self has lost to ACC teams at Kansas. But, of course, he is 2–5 in Elite 8s at KU, and 2–7 in his career.

So lots of angles and parallels and history to pull from.

As a KU fan you feel good because the team has played its best in games that were challenges. They’ve also faced zones several times this year, and seem well-equipped to face Duke’s. And they’ve won three tournament games with their best player only really playing well for about 20 total minutes. As talented as Duke is, we can also hope that the moment is too big for their freshmen.

But Duke is so damn talented, and in areas that are nightmare matchups for KU. Duke is big, and their bigs are versatile; they don’t stay stuck in the low post all night. I just don’t see how KU guards Duke’s bigs without putting Udoka Azubuike in foul trouble early, or wearing him out by having him chase guys on each possession.

This game seems well suited to some kind of junk defense. But as smarter people than me have pointed out, Self’s various junk defenses are usually implemented to slow down perimeter players. They are tougher to use on mobile big men. I imagine they’re trying to cook something up today that can limit Bagley, Carter, and Trent.

I guess my hope is that KU can come out red hot and build a big lead that they can defend better than they did their lead against Clemson last night. If not that, I hope KU can at least stay within a couple possessions of Duke until late in the game, and then take their chances that a bunch of experienced guards can handle the pressure of needing scores and stops to get to the Final Four better than a bunch of young big men. And I’m hoping that Devonté Graham finally plays the way he had all season and maybe that’s enough to pull the team to San Antonio.

I don’t know how realistic either of those scenarios are. But this is the year of the crazy result, so I don’t go into the game thinking KU has zero chance to win. Strangely even though KU would have had a much better chance of beating Syracuse, I think they’ll play better against Duke. I’d rather they go down swinging than in some terrible 51–48 mess that Syracuse would have turned that game into. Then again, Duke could win by 25.

But at least we have a shot.

In Atlanta tonight, Kansas State plays Loyola-Chicago for a chance to go to their first Final Four since 1964. We just happen to have plans to dine at one of our neighbors homes around game time. The husband of the couple is a K-State alum. His wife, who is a Carolina alum, has been a little savage with him now that he’s all fired up for his Cats. In a text exchange about timing of dinner and what we could bring, she suggested we ask him to name a player on the team. The implication is that he could not. Daaaaaamn!

Anyway, Thursday’s K-State – Kentucky game was entertaining. Well, not the game so much which was ugly, sloppy, marred by horrific officiating and terrible coaching. What amused me most was the text and emails threads I was in with other KU fans. A lot of folks were really stressing about who to pull for. There were even some arguments between people who didn’t buy why other fans were cheering for one team or the other.

It broke down something like this:

Some KU fans hate John Calipari and everything he stands for. They hate that his team seemed to have an insanely easy path to the Final Four. They hate Kentucky. This was enough to pull for K-State. Most of these people said they will be pulling hard for Loyola today if K-State pulled off the upset. A lot of those folks also felt that a K-State win, along with wins by Texas Tech and West Virginia, would validate how strong the Big 12 was this year and make KU’s sweep of the conference title look more impressive.

Some KU fans understand all this, but feel that it would be even worse if K-State was the team that took advantage of the Chaos Bracket and made it to San Antonio when so many great KU teams have come up short in recent years. Most of these folks were the angry ones. There were a lot of “How on earth can you pull for one of our biggest rivals to potentially go to a Final Four?!?!?”

There was also an argument about which coach we hated more, Calipari or Bruce Weber.

How did I fit into these views? Well, I wasn’t rooting for either team really. I was ok with K-State winning. But I freaking hate Weber so I would also have been just fine if they lost on some heart-breaking shot or series of plays in the last minute. I really like their team. It’s full of guys that play hard, have gotten better over time, and are playing without fear. I love that. But fucking Weber, man…no way am I interested in him spending the off-season gloating about getting a team to the Final Four. Especially if KU can’t knock off Duke tomorrow.

So I just enjoyed what a terrible game it was. I enjoyed how both coaches seemed to be doing more to torpedo their teams rather than help them. I looked forward gleefully to the losing coach whining after the game. In a true upset, there was a little controversy after the game when I guess Kentucky, or some of their players, didn’t shake the K-State players’ hands. The comments after made both sides look petty, which for me was absolutely fantastic.

As for tonight, I’ll be polite to my hosts. But inside I’ll be pulling for Loyola and their two Kansas City kids. And I’ll be spending more time worrying about Duke and whether Devonté, Malik, Lagerald, Svi, and Udoka can keep winning.

Friday Photo

I haven’t done this for months, which is odd because I’m always taking pictures. This strange weather week seems liked a good time to get back at it.

Until Wednesday we had received just under 10” of snow all season. Wednesday morning we got 4”, all of which melted by about 3:00 in the afternoon. Weird.

All week the forecast has shown that tonight and tomorrow could bring a huge snowstorm. If so, it would hit on the exact anniversary of the late March 2013 storm that dropped almost a foot of snow in some areas and wiped out our girls first day of school after spring break. A few days ago the forecast was for 8-10”. Now it has moderated to 3-6” with localized areas of heavier snow. And Monday it will be well into the 50s, so it will all likely be gone quickly again.

Wednesday after dropping the girls at school I took the camera to a local park to get some shots of the snowscapes. Not quite your typical early spring scene.


Friday Playlist

Jack White’s new album arrived this morning. I’ve listened to it once so far and am not terribly enthused by it. So I won’t share any songs from it in today’s playlist but will offer this link to a fine piece by Steven Hyden about the album and a connection between White and another legendary musician.

“What Are You Like” – Pugwash. Man, I was sure this band was some California band that was mining all the greatness of Tom Petty’s sound to launch their career. Turns out Pugwash is from Ireland and has been recording for nearly 20 years. Who knew? This is a gorgeous power pop gem.

“Saturdays (feat. HAIM)” – Twin Shadow. George Lewis Jr. got away from the sound that made so many people get excited about his music on his last album. But based on the two advance singles for his upcoming album, he’s moved back to the lush pop sound of earlier in his career. Another spring album to get excited about.

“We Are All Going To Die” – Spielbergs. A fine fist pumper/head nodder from this Oslo trio.

“Gloria” – Wussy. I’ve been waiting for this track to hit Spotify for three weeks. Wussy said it is based on a character in season three of Fargo which I did not watch. Excited that they have a new album set to drop in late May.

A special video this week. I have no idea how I had never seen this before, but it’s been floating around for the past day or so. On the occasion of the final night of Arsenio Hall’s original late night show in 1994, Queen Latifah put together an all-star hip hop send out for him. For fans of that era of hip hop, this is fantastic.

NCAA Tournament, Predictions

Since my bracket is allllllll messed up, I might as well re-pick the field based on who is left. Either that or finish the Reader’s Notebook post that has been languishing for a few days.

To the games it is, then!

South Region

No. 11 Loyola-Chicago vs. No. 7 Nevada.
I’ve only caught bits of both teams’ games. In each case the good bits, too, as I saw Loyola win their two games at the buzzer and most of Nevada’s big comeback vs. Cincinnati. Nevada seems to have a higher level of talent while Loyola has Sister Jean on their side. Talent usually wins out in this round, so I’ll go with the Wolfpack.

No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 5 Kentucky.
Wildcat on Wildcat crime! I’m sorry, really I am.
This seems like an easy pick to me. Kentucky is so much more talented than K-State and have been on a roll for the last 3–4 weeks. I want to go with a blowout UK win here. But if K-State plays smart, takes care of the ball, and most importantly if Dean Wade can play productive minutes, I think the Purples can stay in the game. Their best hope, though, is if UK falls in love with the 3 but can’t hit it. Blue Cats win.

West Region

No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 3 Michigan.
This one is tough. It’s easy to fall in love with blowout wins in March. The thing is the momentum they build doesn’t always carry over to the next game. See KU destroying Purdue in the last 10 minutes of their Sweet 16 game last year then never getting it going two nights later against Oregon. That makes me wary of picking A&M. They’ve been a bit of a mess all year, but seem to have gotten past their roster issues and are finally playing to their potential.

John Beilein is one of the best coaches in the game. When he gets his teams rolling, they are incredibly tough to beat. I’m leaning Michigan’s way because of their experience – they lost in the Sweet 16 by one point last year – and Beilein’s coaching. Although the Wolverines did not look good in the first two rounds, I think they pull out a tight win.

No. 9 Florida State vs. No. 4 Gonzaga.
I’m still not really sure how Florida State won that Xavier game last week. Gonzaga had its share of dicey moments in week one.

As long as Leonard Hamilton has been at FSU, it seems like he always has tons of athletic talent but is never sure how to put it all together. You see the pieces and expect something dazzling and are left with disappointment, even when they win.

I’m going with Mark Few and the Zags.

East Region

No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 1 Villanova
Man, what a matchup! I wish it wasn’t on opposite the KU game because I would love to watch it.

As a Big 12 fan, I do not trust WVU. Yeah, they rolled through week one, but who did they play again? I don’t care how locked in Jevon Carter was last weekend, I’ve seen this team blow too many leads as their offense went to shit in the last five minutes of a game to trust them.

I say the Mountaineers have ’Nova on the ropes and blow it late.

No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 2 Purdue
Another fantastic matchup, although this one dulled a bit by Isaac Haas’ broken elbow. With Haas, I think it is a coin toss game that would come down to whether Tech’s hyper-athletic but smaller forwards could guard him on one end, and whether they could force to chase them on the other end.

Without Haas, I think Tech is just too athletic to be denied. And it’s too much to ask Matt Haarms to play 30 minutes against Tech’s front line. Oh, and Keenan Evans is healthy and playing like a beast again. Tech wins.

Midwest Region

No. 5 Clemson vs. No. 1 Kansas
Clemson played maybe the best game in the history of the program last Sunday to advance. Do they have another big effort in them? They’ll need it against a healthy KU team in front of a heavy KU crowd.

I’ve seen Clemson compared to Virginia a little in how they slow the game down. That scares me a little given how KU often struggles on offense. Clemson also has athletic wings who can shoot it, similar to teams that have given KU fits this season. And they have an athletic shot blocker similar to Jordan Bell, who just abused KU at the rim in last year’s Elite 8.

If Udoka Azubuike is healthy and can play 25 minutes, KU wins easily. If not, KU will need all three perimeter players hitting to advance.

I think KU plays their best game of the tournament so far and makes it to the Elite 8 for the third-straight year.

No. 11 Syracuse vs. No. 2 Duke
Duke wins this one easy and by a large margin.

Elite 8

Kentucky over Nevada
Michigan over Gonzaga
Villanova over Texas Tech
Duke over Kansas

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