Month: February 2020 (Page 1 of 2)

Friday Playlist

Still a lot of new music to share. I’m also developing a glut of older songs to include when time allows. With that in mind, I’m going to expand these a little, sharing more like 5–7 songs each week instead of 4–5.

Let’s hope Spotify/Wordpress cooperate this week.

“Do You Understand?” – En Attendant Ana
I had been really digging this track for a couple weeks when I finally decided to look up the band. I assumed they were some band formed by art students from Portland or Brooklyn or wherever trying to affect a certain image by taking a French name. Turns out they are actually French! And their album is outstanding. This song is the clear standout, but the disk is filled with other fine tracks. I’m always down with a band that will throw a little french horn into the mix.

“Garden Song” – Phoebe Bridgers
Finally a new song from Phoebe! Well, kind of. Apparently this song has been a part of her live sets for a year or two and she just got around to recording it. It is, allegedly, the first confirmation that we will get a new album from her sometime this year.

“4 American Dollars” – U.S. Girls
Meg Remy is back with more intensely political lyrics disguised by ass-shaking music. Here she takes on the contradictions of the American Dream.

“Sandcastles” – Cable Ties
Most of the Aussie music I share fits into a rather broad circle of energetic indie pop. This one, though, is a straight ass-kicker that owes a lot to Sleater-Kinney. It is also timely, given the in-fighting among Democrats during the primary season. Jenny McKechnie takes on the gatekeepers of progressive moments who force idealogical purity on the group. Kind of deep but worth noting as the fans of Bernie, Pete, etc yell at each other on Twitter.

“Noonday Devil” – Cartalk
Another absolute stunner from this band.

“Dry the Rain” – The Beta Band
I will now sell five copies of The Three EPs by The Beta Band…

“Fade Into You” – Mazzy Star.
Mazzy Star was famous because of this song, and Hope Sandoval’s unique delivery. It is perhaps the ultimate Generation X song because of her laconic, withdrawn, kind of spooky presence. How many people bought So Tonight That I Might See because of this one song? That, too, kind of sums up our generation, who came of age in the CD era when you had to drop $12–16 to buy an entire album to get the one song you wanted.

Sandoval’s bandmate David Roback died earlier this week. So this goes out to him.

Some Firsts

We’ve gone through a series of firsts in recent days.

Sunday M and I knocked out two firsts together.


She recently told us that she would like to try playing tennis. As in for her high school, not just for fun or as part of some open rec league. At first S and I were concerned: M took some lessons five or six years ago, but they were very basic, she did not show any particular aptitude for the sport, and other than wacking balls with her sisters in the driveway, she has never actually played tennis.

Looking back on her experience with cross country, we were also worried about the humiliation factor. Sure, you stand out when you are one of the last runners in a race. But you’re also in a huge field with hundreds of people milling about and not really a focus. Whereas on a tennis court, even if you are playing one of 12 concurrent matches, you are kind of out there on your own. We were also concerned because CHS won the girls state title last spring. They have some serious talent.

She did not seem concerned about any of that so we decided to support her taking chances and trying new things. Although we know she is motivated to play because two of her best friends are playing. Neither of them has played before, but they both play other club sports so may pick it up quicker.

We made M go talk to the coach and explain her background and make sure he was open to her playing. Apparently he was thrilled that she was interested. We asked around and he seems to be one of those coaches who loves it when girls who have never played want to give it a shot. And the more I thought about it, and remembered my reporting days when I would cover tennis matches, I imagine most high schools have a big group of freshmen who have never played. Some of them may be athletic and can grasp the game quickly. But most are going to struggle. In that sense, I’m hoping M fits right in.

Anyway, Sunday was a nice day so I took her across the street to the high school to hit some balls. She surprised me a bit. She obviously struggled, but she was able to mix some good hits in. Serving is going to be a challenge, but again I imagine that will be the case for most of the girls she plays. I had her hit against the wall for awhile, we moved to the junior court to get a feel for hitting over a net, then walked over to the main courts so she could get used to its size.


After we hit balls for about 45 minutes, I gave her the car keys and we drove around the school parking lot for about 15 minutes. S has driven with her several times, but this was my first time with her. M was very nervous and tentative. She overthinks things. Her turns and stops are a little rough/abrupt. But she did just fine. I let her drive the two blocks home and we made it safely.

L had gone with us and was, apparently, very hesitant about riding in a car M was driving. S told me that L threatened not to go when she heard M would be doing some driving practice after we finished with tennis.

Monday we got M’s signup notice for her in-car driving lessons. Remembering my driver’s ed experience, I think she will improve much quicker when it is a non-parent who has been trained on how to teach kids to drive helping her rather than a parent.

It’s all kind of scary. I am eager for her to gain the independence that comes with a driver’s license, especially since it will make my mornings and afternoons much easier. But, man, seeing kids drive crazy in the parking lot every day when I’m dropping her off and picking her up can’t help but make me fear what she’s getting into. The experience has also made me evaluate how I drive. I realize so much of what I do is based on instinct and 30 years of experience. You don’t really look at the car approaching you in the opposite lane, but just sense its presence and trust it will not veer into your path. When M drives you can see her minor panic as she shifts her focus from the approaching car to the curb on the opposite side and fights to keep the car centered between the two.

She is learning how to drive in S’s new car, a Mazda CX–3. S’ previous two cars were both Jeep Cherokees, which she loved. But before her last lease expired we looked at what affordable, small SUVs and crossovers were the safest and the Mazda came up. So she is leasing a new CX–3 with the idea that M will get comfortable driving it and once she gets her license we will buy her a used one.


The final first of the week was me getting my CPAP machine on Monday. I’ve slept with it two nights, which has been a chore. The biggest issue is that I’ve started with the full mask, which covers my nose and mouth and keeps me from sleeping on my stomach as I prefer. So far I’ve also struggled to sleep on my side, too, although this morning I’ve been watching videos with tips on how to do that. I’ve always struggled to sleep on my back at night. I can take a nap during the day face-up. But at night I really struggle to relax and stay asleep in that position.

Night one was tough. It took me a long time to fall asleep and then I woke often because of the strange, new sensation of having a mask on my face. Last night was a little better, although I think I had some of the straps on the mask too tight and the bridge of my nose is quite sore today.

From what I’ve read, it can take several weeks for CPAP to begin having positive effects. I’m hopeful it works for me and soon I won’t be walking around like a zombie in the afternoon.

Round Two


It’s been awhile since KU played a huge Big 12 game. The game at Texas Tech two years ago, when the Jayhawks clinched their 14th straight conference title was a big game. ESPN Gameday was in town, Tech had beaten KU in Lawrence a month earlier. But that game didn’t feel massive because A) KU was in first place coming into the game B) a loss would only drop them into a tie for first and C) there were still two games to play and KU had a scheduling advantage over that stretch. It was a big game but, from the KU perspective, it wasn’t a BIG GAME.

Saturday, though, was a BIG GAME for KU. A HUGE GAME, even. They entered the contest at Baylor trailing the undefeated Bears by a game thanks to a convincing loss in Lawrence six weeks ago. Baylor had a couple tight finishes but have not looked like a team that would stumble and help KU, the way so many other contenders have done over the past 15 years. ESPN Gameday was in town again. KU was looking up at a team that just might be better than them. The vibe was very different for us KU fans.

The result was a hell of a game, the biggest performance of Udoka Azubuike’s career, and a tie in the conference race with four games to play.

First up, the Udoka performance. A friend of mine – who happens to have a daughter at Baylor – predicted before the game that Udoka would have 20 dunks. That seemed a little exuberant, but damn if Udoka didn’t try to get there. He dunked early and often. Off lobs. Off offensive rebounds. Off spin moves and head fakes. Dok dunked like a man possessed. He, and the KU guards who got him the ball, absolutely shredded the Baylor interior defense. It was a career-defining performance. I found his postgame interview with Holly Rowe fascinating, too. He was super emotional, something he has rarely shown to the public. You could tell through his play and his words that this was a BIG GAME for him, personally.

I joked with friends after the game that he was soft for not getting one more rebound for an even 20. As impressive as 23 and 19 is, 23 and 20 puts him right there with Nick Collison’s insane games as as senior when he went for 20 and 20 multiple times as greatest performances by a KU big man.

The win and Dok’s performance were both thanks to some fantastic adjustments by Bill Self, changing where KU started their offense, who they had initiating things, and finding ways to take away what worked for Baylor defensively a month ago.

I don’t think Self gets enough credit for this kind of stuff. The casual fan will acknowledge that he is a great coach. But I bet many of those people will couch that by saying, “It’s just because he’s at Kansas and always has great talent. Oh, and because Adidas was paying those kids to go there, too.”

The more astute observer will recognize how Self is a very good in-game coach. He’s one of the very best at running sets after time outs to get easy looks. His teams almost always adjust well at halftime. But I think even these people miss how freaking good Self is at making adjustments at the higher level. If he has a chance to prep for a team, he will almost always insert new looks to attack their soft spots.

Bigger is how he adjusts over the course of the season. Way back in his second year, he threw out the entire offense when Wayne Simien was injured. Playing around a 6’8” walk-on, Self started a bunch of guards, discarded his preferred throw it down low offense, and ran motion to get them lanes to attack the rim. He didn’t fully embrace the three-point shot, mostly because that team was filled with slashers rather than shooters. Still he was one of the first coaches at an elite program to go small, even if it was temporary and because of an injury.

He also scrapped his offense three years ago, moving Josh Jackson from the small forward to power forward slot in mid-December. He saw that was the best way both to put Jackson in favorable matchups and open things up for Frank Mason III and Devonté Graham outside. That switch made a good team great.

This year, he was again willing to scrap his offense in-season, this time in January, when it was clear that David McCormack was making things harder, not easier, on Udoka. Bring McCormack off the bench, slide another guard into the starting lineup, and a team that was struggling to find its identity suddenly became much better on both ends of the court.

Coach K is the greatest coach in the history of college basketball because he has won so many different ways over his career. He’s always been willing to scrap the offense he ran last year if this year’s talent needs a different scheme to succeed. But I don’t know that K has ever adjusted in season the way Self has repeatedly done. Hell, if Coach K went to Rupp Arena and won with a 6’8” walk-on starting at center there would be an ESPN 30 for 30 about it. Self does it and only KU fans remember.

Bill Self is the subject of warranted criticism now because of KU’s involvement in the Adidas scandal. His KU career may well end in the next year or two once the NCAA has its say. Regardless of how that turns out, regardless of how much talent he has, Self has proven himself to be one of the best coaches in the game not just because of the consistency with which his teams win but also because he is a master of finding ways to put his best players in positions to play their best, and is never afraid to make major changes deep within a season to get them to that point.

OK, that ode to Self aside, Saturday’s game was fantastic. Baylor jumps out 5–0 and the crowd is going nuts. KU comes back with a 14–2 run to take control. Baylor made run after run, KU always answered. KU played the last 90 seconds of each half about as bad as they could have possibly played them. It could have easily been a 10+ point win to match Baylor’s 12-point win in Lawrence. They did just enough to escape the #1 team in the country’s home court with a three-point win.

It was a huge game, and yet it wasn’t. While the Big 12 race should go down to the wire, KU and Baylor have clearly separated themselves from the rest of the country. There seems to be little doubt that KU will be the #1 seed in the Midwest region and Baylor will be the #1 seed in the South region. All that seems to be in question is which team will be the #1 overall seed, which is important only if they play for the national title and need to decide which team gets to pick what uniform they want to wear.

With so much settled that does take a little away from this game.

Still, I love these huge, late February games. Big games at other points in the calendar are great. The greatest game in the history of the Big 12 was likely the #1 Oklahoma vs #1 Kansas game in January 2016. It featured an equal number of future conference players of the year as overtimes (three). It was a wildly entertaining, high-level game full of drama. But since it came in the first week of the conference season – and calendar year – it got lost as both teams waded through the rest of their conference schedules and played again six weeks later in a game that probably had more meaning.

But these games when the sun is setting a little later and hints of spring are on the horizon, when the wins make you start thinking about fun March scenarios, they just hit you a little harder. And the wins feel a little bit bigger.

Friday Playlist

A sudden backup of good, new songs means an extra-full playlist this week. (Spotify is being a bitch today, so just a link rather than embed.)

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/1EX994vPAnfwchd6GKVQ4f?si=NvBVzSZ5S5ONAJ5HzpkVBg

“What It Is” – Angel Olsen
Olsen’s All Mirrors album got tremendous critical praise last year, but never resonated with me. I heard this song a couple weeks ago and kicked myself for not giving the album more listens so I could take in this track’s brilliance.

“Different Light” – Best Coast
BC’s long-awaited album comes out today. I liked, but did not love, the first two singles. This track, though, is right where you want a Best Coast track to be. It makes me wish that spring was here.

“I’ll Be the Death of You” – I Break Horses
I knew this band’s name, but not necessarily their music. Glad I discovered them in time to hear this track, which they describe as the middle point between Primal Scream’s legendary Screamadelica album and classic Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

“When You Leave the Sun” – Gladie
Waxahatchee is putting out new music, and first time I heard this I wondered if it was one of her songs. Turns out Augusta Koch just sounds a lot like Katie Crutchfield.

“Be Afraid” – Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Isbell releasing new music in an election year? Would/will vote for.

“Cars in Space” – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
Not sure these guys are capable of making a bad song. A perfectly goofy video that makes me laugh while I’m nodding my head and bouncing my knee. Wait for the choreography near the end.

Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 38

Chart Week: February 11, 1984
Song: “I Still Can’t Get Over Loving You” – Ray Parker, Jr.
Chart Position: #16, 14th week on the chart. Peaked at #12 the week of February 4.

Ray Parker Jr. had a hell of a career. Before he formed his first band, he was in the touring bands for the Spinners, Stevie Wonder, and Barry White. Later he worked with The Carpenters, Rufus and Chaka Khan, The Supremes, Aretha Franklin, Deniece Williams, Bill Withers, The Temptations, Boz Skaggs, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, LaToya Jackson, and New Edition. If he never recorded a song on his own, that right there would have been a great, great career.

Beginning in 1978 with his band Raydio,[1] he had a total of 13 Top 40 hits. Five of them hit the top 10. He will, of course, always be remembered for his biggest hit, the 1984 #1 smash “Ghostbusters,” which was both nominated for an Oscar and was the basis of a lawsuit.[2]

Parker had a unique sound he carried through his career. It was a pleasing mix of R&B, pop, and soul. It was black without being too black, which back then was still a big deal for a black artist looking to get mainstream airplay. No one sounded like Ray Parker Jr. That is unless he was producing your music. Then your songs pretty much sounded like his.

If there’s one thing other than Ghostbusting that Ray liked to sing about, it was getting a little on the side. On his very first hit, Raydio’s #8 song “Jack & Jill,” Jack goes out and finds some love when Jill can’t give him what he needs.

Raydio’s final top 10 hit, 1981’s “A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do),” was a bit of a sequel in which Parker wrote about Jill also not being faithful when Jack was out doing his thing. Casey Kasem said it could be a song in support of the Equal Rights Amendment, which was still fighting for passage in 1981. I’m not sure if that’s what the ERA was supposed to be about…

Parker’s first solo hit, 1982’s #4 “The Other Woman,” continued in that vein. So did other singles: “Let Me Go,” “It’s Our Own Affair,” and “Bad Boy.” Wikipedia doesn’t list Parker as having ever been married. Maybe he was onto something: he saw infidelity everywhere so why get locked down when one or both of you is just going to cheat?

Anyways…I heard this song somewhere about a year ago and a lyric near the end jumped out at me:

There’s no way to this thing’s through
No
I still can’t get over – not yet
I ain’t through loving you.
I’m gettin’ mad, girl
Don’t you ever try to leave- no no
It’ll be the last thing you’ll ever do

Holy shit, Ray! I know times were different, but, Jesus, even in the ‘80s I don’t think it was appropriate to threaten to kill your ex if she went off with some other dude. Especially when combined with him knocking the bust of his ex off the pedestal in this video. Kind of runs counter to the smooth, easy going persona Ray cultivated. Ever since I noticed that line last year I’ve had a hard time listening to any of Ray’s songs. And I’m hopeful that was just some dramatic account and he didn’t really threaten his exes when their relationships ended.


Elsewhere on the chart:
Debuting at #20 was “Thriller,” the biggest chart debut in over a decade. My first thought was, “That was some great marketing!” The video for “Thriller” premiered at midnight on December 2, 1983, yet the song was just debuting on the Hot 100 over two months later. Release the video, build buzz, release the single later and get a huge bump. Brilliant!

“Thriller” was, in fact, officially released as a single on January 23, 1984. But I know it was in high rotation on my local pop stations as soon as the video came out. So all that airplay counted for nothing and Michael, Quincy Jones, and Epic Records missed out on six weeks of potential massive sales and likely another #1 single.

Which doesn’t make sense, right? My best guess is that there was some kind of agreement with Paul McCartney well before “Thriller” was released that Michael would not release another single while “Say, Say, Say” was still climbing the charts. “Say Say Say” dropped from #1 the week of January 21, “Thriller” was released two days later. Maybe that was just a coincidence.


At #12 was the classic one-hit-wonder “99 Luftballons” by German artist Nena. During the countdown, Casey explained that different versions of the song had hit in different US markets. Some played the original, German version. Others were playing an updated version with English lyrics. To reflect that, Casey said they would be playing the English version in the following week’s show. I thought that was a nice touch.

I’m guessing Kansas City was an English version market, because I remember hearing it about a million times before I ever heard the German version. I could be wrong, though. It was 36 years ago.


  1. Get it? RAY-dio?  ↩
  2. Huey Lewis sued Parker saying he ripped off “I Want a New Drug.” They settled but Parker later sued Lewis for breaking the conditions of the settlement by talking about the case.  ↩

(Mostly) Sports Notes

Time for some of my famous half-assed sports thoughts!


NBA ASG

Man, I am mad at myself for not paying more attention to Sunday’s All Star Game. I blame L. I told her the game was on and she wasn’t interested, so we watched other things. I turned it on for the last 30 seconds of the first half then switched away, got distracted by a book and emptying the dishwasher, and forgot about it until it was over.

Sounds like the new format was a success, though. This Elam Ending thing is certainly intriguing. I really hope that the NBA uses it in the G-League and summer league games, or even that some college holiday tournaments give it a shot. I like the concept but I really want to see it in a true game setting to understand how it works in practice. I’m suspicious about changing the context of a game within the game. But I would also love to find a way for the end of close games to not take 20 minutes of real time to play.


Astros

The Houston sign stealing scandal has gotten really good over the past few days. You have players calling out the Astros and the MLB commissioner. You have fans just destroying the team and the league. In an era when so many dramas are manufactured, this one is 100% legit and I’m waaaay in on it turning into a season-long beef.

I saw this morning that an oddsmaker set the Astros hit by pitcher total for the upcoming season at 83.5. My initial thought is that seems low, although I’m sure MLB is going to step in and do its best to chill things out if the beanings get out of hand in April, which could make that number about right.


KU

You see what they’re doing, don’t you? Marcus Garrett having the best shooting game of his life Saturday? And Devon Dotson repeating the act Monday night? They’re getting all those shots out of the way so they combine to go a very March-like 0–21 on Saturday against Baylor. At least it’s February…

Seriously, game of the year Saturday in Waco (assuming Baylor beats Oklahoma tonight). I hope KU has a better plan to attack Baylor’s defense than they did a month ago.


Marcus Morris

Plenty of chatter among KU fans about whether Marcus Morris was deserving of having his jersey retired. Since the standards were relaxed late in Roy Williams’ run, I think Marcus absolutely fits the standard: he was the Big 12 POY which, even at KU, should be enough. As a couple writers keep pointing out, he had the most efficient and impressive offensive year of any player in Bill Self’s tenure.

Still, I understand some of the reluctance. And I think it’s totally based on how Marcus’ teams never made it to the Final Four. Most of all, it goes back to the 2011 VCU game, the worst loss of Self’s career and perhaps in school history.

CJ Moore had an interesting conversation with Elijah Johnson on The Athletic about that game. Elijah is always a super interesting quote, but I can’t believe I hadn’t heard him share this story before. He said in the team’s film session before the VCU game, the coaches ended it with a highlight reel of the 2010–11 season. The design, it seemed, was to remind the players of all the good things they had done and how great they could be.

However, Johnson said, the players took it a totally different way. He said the film room was dead quiet afterward. Some players were emotional. He said instead of inspiring them, the highlights reminded them of how close to the end they were, a big deal for a team that was exceptionally tight. He also said it made him feel like no matter how they played in the VCU game, they couldn’t match what had been contained in those highlights.

Fascinating. It may explain why KU came out so dead in the opening five minutes of that game, digging a hole they could never get out of.

It also makes me madder about the game I’ll always be maddest about. A freaking highlight video kept a team with the easiest path to a national championship any KU team has ever had from beating a team that shouldn’t have even made the tournament? Going to find a stray dog to kick for awhile…


Colts

Speaking of kicking dogs, there is a lot of smoke around the rumors that Phillip Rivers could end up as a Colt. I totally get it. You go get Rivers or Tom Brady or Drew Brees or some other competent, experienced quarterback, draft someone else in the first round, and use the veteran to get through the next two years before that rookie is ready to play.

But Phillip Fucking Rivers?

For starters he’s a douche. His skills are clearly on the decline. Most of all, he and his teams were Kryptonite to the Manning-era Colts. They knocked them out of the playoffs twice, once with Rivers on the sideline injured. They ended the Colts’ perfect season in 2005.

At least Brady won Super Bowls. And even lost Super Bowls. Rivers’ teams have never gotten close. His game is clearly on the decline. He’s never been mobile. Seems like a horrible move to me. Just another reason for me not to watch the NFL, I guess.

I’m also fearful the Colts will draft Tua Tagovailoa. No doubting the kid’s heart, but he’s undersized and always hurt. Not a recipe for a franchise QB.


The Algorithm

Sometimes the various algorithms that run our lives are spooky. M is creeped out by the ads that pop up on her Instagram feed. They seem to mirror closely conversations she’s had. The other day she was saying “DOG FOOD!” near her phone, over-and-over, to see if that sparked a bunch of dog food ads. It did not, which I think proves the algorithm knows when you are trying to game/mock/test it.

I do enjoy how the algorithm works most of the time. Especially on YouTube, when it will randomly pick up some old song I haven’t listened to in years and spits its video or a performance of it out at me.

I say that because it’s been months since I’ve watched any 2014 or 2015 Royals highlight videos. Yet, last night when I was doing some research I’ll discuss in my next Reader’s Notebook entry, there were a bunch of ALCS and World Series highlight videos that kept bubbling up.

I approve, algorithm, I approve.

Friday Vid


“Love Is In The Air” – Stella Donnelly covering John Paul Young.
OH. MY. GOODNESS.
I just ran across this, which is about the most delightful thing I’ve come across in ages. A thoroughly wonderful cover of John Paul Young’s 1978 AM pop radio hit “Love Is In The Air” by Australian artist Stella Donnelly. She looks like she’s having so much fun in this performance, which is what sells it for me.

Friday Playlist

A strange weekend in our house. St. P’s always has a four-day weekend surrounding President’s Day. This year is no different. However, CHS does not take any days off. So while C and L get to sleep in today and Monday, M has a normal schedule. It is messing with my head a little for some reason.

It being Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d share songs about love. Some about the good side of love, some about the dark side. I’m doing this on the fly, so it may change/update over the course of the day. Which means you might want to hit play, refresh in awhile, and hit play again to get some new tracks.

KU Hoops: Putting the Pieces Together

Because no two sports seasons are alike, every season seems weird.

This Big 12 basketball season is no different. The weirdness this year comes from Baylor winning in Lubbock and Lawrence the first week of the season, not stumbling elsewhere, and the league race seeming to be locked up early.

The math changed a little last night when KU was absolutely dominant in the final eight minutes to steal a win in Morgantown, a long-time house of horrors for the Jayhawks.


West Virginia never looked great Wednesday, but when they took a nine-point lead midway through the second half, it felt like one of those nights when KU would fold under the Morgantown pressure and the Mountaineers would romp to an easy win.

Until KU played like it was 2018 again.

Steals, timely threes, and ridiculous defense late turned a nine-point deficit into a nine-point win.[1]

And all of a sudden it feels like there’s an actual race for the Big 12 title.

Some of that is just the afterglow of a big, road win. KU is still, effectively, two games behind Baylor. But that margin seems scalable when you look at KU’s stats.

They are the highest scoring team in Big 12 play. They are the best field goal shooting team in the Big 12. Going into last night, they had the highest 3 point percentage in the conference (which seems crazy…). They are also the top adjusted offensive efficiency team in the league according to KenPom. And the KenPom ratings have KU as the very best adjusted defensive team in the country.

All done against the most difficult schedule in the nation.

It’s been easy to focus on KU’s flaws this year. Some of that is just because that’s what us KU fans do: we compare our team to the other top four, five, whatever teams in the country and pick at where we are lacking. This year it is, clearly, outside shooting. We kept hoping it would get better, but here we are in mid-February and nothing has really changed. There’s no reason to think it will.

I think there are things Bill Self could do to give his shooters better chances. For some reason he rarely runs the little fade-screen for a three in the corner, the play that Tyrel Reed made a living off of back in 2011. But when he runs it for Isaiah Moss, the kid almost always knocks it down. Both Moss and Christian Braun get swallowed up when asked to find a shot within the normal KU perimeter offense. While all that action is made to get openings for cutters or entry passes, it makes it very difficult for shooters to get spot-up opportunities. I think Self should run the fade-screen a few times each half. If Moss and Braun can start knocking down a couple shots a night – as Moss did Wednesday – that opens so much up for this offense.

That criticism stated, I think Self deserves a ton of credit for seeing his team’s limitations and tweaking the offense to still get them scoring opportunities. Most teams should feel safe sagging off shooters, clogging the lane, and generally mucking up KU’s offensive plans. Yet all that perimeter action opens lanes for Devon Dotson and Marcus Garrett to drive. And while the team is not nearly good enough at throwing the ball inside to Udoka Azubuike – seriously, he should get way more touches – they usually find a way to get him involved. It is remarkable how many layups and dunks this year’s team gets, basics that college defenses should be able to stop. As much as Dotson struggles from 3, he balances that by getting to the rim and finishing better than just about any KU point guard I can remember.[2]

And the defense…it has been unbelievable. Where it is tough to stop both Dotson and Azubuike on the offensive end, it is similarly difficult to beat both Garrett and Dok on the defensive end. And the defense is getting better. Dotson has been getting more steals lately. Ochai Agbaji is beginning to lock people down. They are learning to not just guard their men, but smother the opponent as a defensive unit.

For all the team’s flaws – outside shooting, passing, not great ball handling – they have stumbled onto a formula that can help them climb back into the Big 12 race and make a deep run in March. Just a little more efficiency on offense – and that means Agbaji and Dotson knocking down 3–4 deep balls combined each night or Moss and Braun getting more consistent from outside – and suddenly KU looks like the clear best team in the country.

I can’t get too excited about that prospect, though. Once every 4–5 games KU gets hot as a team from behind the arc. The next game they are ice-cold and remain that way for several games. All they need us that middle ground, but I think that’s too much of an ask for this squad.

Winning the Big 12 still seems like a huge hurdle. KU could absolutely win in Waco, but as dominant as Baylor was in their first meeting that will require a huge effort. Even then KU needs to win in Lubbock and not slip up in Manhattan. Manage that and KU will still need some help. West Virginia is tough, but I don’t know that their offense is good enough to beat Baylor. And the Bears just don’t look like a team that’s going to blow a stupid game over the next three weeks.

Still, in a year filled with strangeness there is plenty of time for more wackiness.


  1. Shout out to Adonis “Down by 12, we win by 12!” Jordan.  ↩
  2. Frank Mason and Tyshawn Taylor were both excellent, but both as seniors.  ↩

Some More Old Man Shit That Has Nothing To Do With Golf or Other Hobbies

It’s been awhile since I wrote way too many words about something relatively personal. So strap yourselves in – or just skip this post if you’re not interested – for some old man news.

For the past few months I’ve been undergoing a series of tests to try to determine why I had two lengthy episodes of irregular heartbeat late last year.

The first episode was in October, the week that I was taking steroids and not sleeping because of my poison ivy. On a Saturday I had a few drinks at dinner with friends, a couple when they came over after, and just before bedtime, my heart started beating strangely. It was kind of a fluttery feeling, like my heart was out of synch. I had no chest pain or tightness, no shortness of breath, no numbness or anything else that would indicate a heart attack or stroke. S was already asleep, this sensation was not totally unfamiliar, so I went to bed figuring it would pass. I woke several times during night it was still present. Same in the morning when I woke up. I had checked my pulse with my Apple Watch a few times and it was always normal. I finally thought to use the ECG app, which told me I was in atrial fibrillation, the fancy word for irregular heartbeat.

“Well no shit,” I thought. I finally told S, she used her stethoscope to listen for herself, and then started looking up ways to counter AFib. I held my nose and blew out, like I was trying to pop my ears. I dunked my face in ice water. I ate cashews and drank cold water. Eventually my heartbeat corrected and I felt fine. When it didn’t happen again over the next several days and weeks, we both chalked it up to the steroids, lack of sleep, and alcohol combining to make my heart beat strangely for 12 hours.

Fast forward to mid-December. I was reading, about three sips into my only beer of the night. Suddenly I felt my heartbeat slip into AFib again. My watch confirmed. Stupidly, I just went to bed without telling S, thinking it would pass quickly. When the AFib was still present in the morning, though, I did tell her. She did some Googling and threatened to stick two plastic spoons down my throat. Apparently triggering the gag reflex can reset your heart beat. I refused because, again, I otherwise felt fine and wasn’t interested in gagging.

However, she was now concerned since I had experienced two episodes of AFib that both lasted over 10 hours. More importantly, my dad had AFib, and we believe he died because of complications associated with it. As soon as she got to her office she walked over to my doc on the family medicine side of her practice and spoke with her. They quickly got me an appointment with a cardiologist later that week.

So, two weeks before Christmas I began making rounds at medical offices. First came the trip to the cardiologist. Then one to my PCP so she could run some thyroid tests. Then came a heart stress test and heart echo. At that appointment I was given a heart monitor that I had to wear for a month. After the holidays I met with a sleep specialist and then did a home sleep study a week ago.

So, first, the good news: I aced all the heart tests. The stress test and echo – I walked and ran on a treadmill until my heart rate was over 150 BPM then laid down so they could shoot images of my heart – all showed my heart is healthy and functions normally under stress. Same with the heart monitor: it showed a normal, healthy heart. No thyroid issues, either.

I’ve also had no further bouts of AFib since December. Although my cardiologist told me to not make any lifestyle or diet changes while I was wearing the monitor, after the holidays I did almost completely cut out alcohol. It was more about needing to drop some pounds after the extra drinks and desserts of holiday break than heart health. But there was also the knowledge that alcohol may be a trigger for my AFib. On the nights I drink I do so nervously, waiting for my heart to slip out of rhythm. Since January 6, excepting nights we’ve gone out to dinner with friends, I’ve had maybe three beers. And then always lighter stuff rather than the 6–7% ABV beers I prefer. Hey, I’ve lost as many as nine pounds, too!11

I saw my cardiologist again last week and she was very pleased with all these results. She is sending me to get a heart scan, but other than that, I left without any prescriptions and without needing to see her again for a year. Provided I have no more AFib episodes.

My visit to the sleep specialist and resulting sleep study was to determine if I have sleep apnea. There are strong ties between sleep apnea and AFib. I bet you didn’t know that because I sure didn’t. This was viewed as more of a formality, as I don’t snore, neither I nor S have any memories of me waking up gasping for breath in the middle of the night, I’m not overweight, etc.

However, the sleep study was a damn nightmare. I had to strap a monitor across my forehead and then stick two tubes into my nose that would measure my breathing activity while asleep. They assured us – five of us picked up our monitors at the same time and got the spiel together – that we could sleep in any position. Well, I’m a stomach sleeper and you damn sure can’t sleep on your stomach with this thing on. I often fall asleep on my side, but even that was difficult with the monitor on. They also told us not to sleep around a partner who snores because the monitor could pick that up. S snores when she is getting a cold, which she was doing last week. So I decided to sleep in the basement guest room.

Between being forced to sleep on my back and being in a strange room I had soooo much trouble relaxing and falling asleep. When I did sleep, I managed to knock the monitor askew around 4:00AM, which set off an alarm that woke me to reposition it.

That night kind of sucked.

I got a call Monday saying that the sleep study showed that I indeed have sleep apnea. The specialist I spoke with two weeks ago said just because you don’t snore does not mean you can’t have apnea. And the more I read about the symptoms of sleep apnea, the more it makes sense. I’m always tired, even if I sleep well. I figured that was just because I rarely drink caffeine anymore but perhaps this is the explanation.

For now they’re going to put me on a CPAP machine for two months then reevaluate me. Unfortunately the sleep specialist doc is not in the office this week, so I don’t know if this is just a preliminary step or if I’m stuck on the CPAP machine forever. I’m holding out hope that it was a shitty sleep study that triggered the result and maybe I’ll only have to wear the machine for a couple months. I would not place bets on that being the case, though.

Here’s where those of you who have had real medical issues can laugh or shake your heads/fists at me: this really bummed me out. I’ve been a stomach/side sleeper my entire life. When I attempt to sleep on my back, I can never get comfortable and often jerk awake just as I begin to slip into sleep. And now I have to wear a device that forces me away from my preferred sleep position? A device I thought only elderly or exceptionally obese people had to use? That sucks.

As I thought about it more, though, I realized it is obviously a good thing to figure out what is causing the AFib so I can get it and keep it under control. While I don’t know many of the details of my dad’s final weeks, I’ve obviously seen how not managing your AFib can be a life ender. Also, as I noted, I had felt that sensation of an arhythmic heart before the October episode. I don’t know how many times or how often it has happened, but I know my heart has done that in the past. Just never for more than a few minutes, so I never really thought much of it. The lengthy episodes might be unusual, but the condition is not new.

Beyond the AFib effects, perhaps wearing the CPAP machine will mean I’m not walking around yawning all the time, or trying to not fall asleep when I sit stationary for a few moments during the day. It’s one of those things that has become so normal that I almost don’t notice it; in fact I don’t think I mentioned it to any of the docs, again because I assumed it had to do with the lack of caffeine in my system. But maybe I am exhausted all the time because I’m not sleeping normally, which is also triggers my genetic link to AFib and causes my heart to wig out occasionally. Wild, man.

So this all sucks. But at the same time it doesn’t. I am making some lifestyle modifications. But my overall good health has been confirmed. There are worse outcomes for having heart issues. There are far more serious diagnoses than sleep apnea.

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