Long Distance Jayhawk


2014-15 Big XII Preview, Part 2 – …Blood by longdistancejayhawk

Welcome to Part 2 of my insanely long Big XII X XII Conference preview. If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, do yourself and favor and do that before taking a bite out of this bad boy. You’ll be glad you did since you won’t have any surprises when it comes to which teams are decidedly not being discussed in this part of the preview. Also, as noted in Part 1, I wrote this Friday and Saturday of last week, using numbers going into conference play. Obviously, I’m a little late getting this out there in the world, but I honestly thought we weren’t getting into the Big XII X XII till this week. Which is what happens every year since Kansas likes to have that one last non-conference game on the Saturday that everyone else starts. I should note this for next year, but I’ll totally forget.

And then there were five.

And then there were five.

Well, we’re all here. Are you rested? Did you get yourself a little snack? Maybe you actually did a little work in the downtime between the first piece going up and this one. Perhaps you didn’t. Maybe you spent some time pondering the Dion Waiters to OKC, JR Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland trade1. Who knows what you did, but I’mm glad you’re here. There isn’t too much to say in terms of a preamble, so let’s get down to it.

PROJECTED STANDINGS AT THE END OF THE SEASON, PART 1 RECAP

  1. ?
  2. ??
  3. ???
  4. ????
  5. ?????
  6. Oklahoma
  7. Oklahoma State
  8. Texas Christian
  9. Kansas State
  10. Texas Tech

I think I did pretty good there! Not to toot my own horn or anything…I think the ballsiest pick was going against TCU, but as I mentioned in the last piece, I really don’t trust them to stay nearly as good in this death valley of a conference. I’d love to be proven wrong and see the Horned Frogs make a play at relevance, though.

Now, let’s get into the top half of the Big XII X XII. Quick note: I wrote these almost immediately after Part 1. So, I kind of lost a little steam. Or maybe these assessments are more streamlined thanks to me barfing up all the detritus I felt necessary in the first go around. Whatever the case, there’s a fully 1,000 fewer words here, so you can probably get through it without having to avoid your boss too much with minimizing the browser window.

#5 – Baylor Bears

Last Season’s Shame: 26-12 (9-9) – What could have been a terrible season following a 1-6 start to conference play, Scott Drew’s Bears ripped off an 8-3 run to cap league play en route to Big XII X XII Championship game and a Sweet Sixteen appearance against the Great Kamiskies of Wisconsin.
Emoji-nal State:
Baylor
Non-Conference Record:
11-1
Projected Conference Record: 10-8
Projected Total:
21-9

Ranked Game Record: 0-0
Baller Wins:
Either win over Texas A&M or Vanderbilt, since all it takes is one of those teams pulling off the impossible and toppling Kentucky for us to ascribe the transitive property of wins and declare that Baylor could, in fact, beat Kentucky.
Brutal Losses: 
They only lost to Illinois, so by default.

Baylor kicks off the top half of the Big XII X XII picks and ranking series. This might be the second biggest stretch of my picks since this is a Scott Drew team we’re talking about. As with a lot of these, I’m going with the ol’ gut because I don’t trust Baylor to be able to replicate their pre-conference success in such a hellaciously tough conference. A huge part of my trepidation is that they haven’t played anyone of note prior to taking on Oklahoma over the weekend. And they lost that one. So…yeah, maybe I’m starting to worry a bit about putting them over Oklahoma.

Ultimately, I decided that the talent and experience of this team would overcome the curse of Scott Drew. Rico Gathers, a junior forward, is averaging a double-double. Also, there are just two frosh getting appreciable burn for this squad, while there are a whopping 8 upperclassmen (6 are juniors). At a certain point, the experience of being there has to count for something. I can’t imagine that even Scott Drew’s penchant for not getting the most out of his team can overwhelm the amount of talent collected here.

#4 – West Virginia Mountaineers

Last Season’s Shame: 17-16 (9-9) – Did you see what the Mountaineers did last year? They went 8-5 in pre-conference and 9-9 in conference which was good enough to make me at least think about whether or not they deserved to be considered a fringe bubble team. Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel like that was at least a conversation in March of last year.
Emoji-nal State:
WVU
Non-Conference Record:
12-1
Projected Conference Record: 10-8
Projected Total:
22-9

Ranked Game Record: 1-0
Baller Wins:
At the time, UCONN looked like a solid team defending their title, even though they were in the middle of a free fall at the time. So, WVU gets to hold on to that #17 victory.
Brutal Losses: 
Losing to actual LSU, rather than faux-LSU TSU isn’t the best thing you can do to burnish the old tournament resume.

Jesus, have you seen or heard about what’s happening in Morgantown? This team is about buckets and buckets and buckets and the only way to get buckets and buckets and buckets is to shoot. Like a shit ton. I mean, like constantly. As of Friday when I pulled numbers, they had taken a mind boggling 844 shots, outstripping number two in the conference, TCU, by a staggering 132 shots YTD. That’s nuts! They’re taking nearly ten more shots per game than the second place team in the rest of the conference. Add in the fact that they’re forcing a league high 13.46 steals per game (about 3.5 more than second place OSU) and you realize just how fast this Mountaineer team truly is.

My big reservation though comes when you dig a little deeper. Right now, Huggins’ squad is 24th in PPG (78.9) which is great…except that it comes on a truly abysmal 42.9% FG% (good for 211th in the country). Oof. That’s not the most reassuring thing I’ve ever seen. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out if West Virginia was going to run into a huge problem when the pace of the game inevitably slows down. What happens when they have to take say 45-50 shots as opposed to 60-65 they’re shooting right now? I know this is Huggins’ brand of basketball and that’s ultimately what helped me rank the Mountaineers so high2. Even if there’s a bad night or stretch, Huggy Bear’s  been there before. He can get the most out of these guys, good for a fourth place finish.

#3 – Texas Longhorns

Last Season’s Shame: 24-11 (11-7) – Look at that! Another Sith Lord team that makes it through the regular season well on the right side of .500 only to fizzle out in the first weekend of the tournament3!
Emoji-nal State:
Texas
Non-Conference Record:
11-2
Projected Conference Record: 13-5
Projected Total:
24-7

Ranked Game Record: 1-1
Baller Wins:
Just getting in on the “UCONN is a quality win” bandwagon as the Huskies were free fallin’ without a parachute into ignominy.
Brutal Losses:
Losing to Stanford sticks out because fuck the Cardinal.

Honestly, this seems like the biggest gamble on the whole list. Rick Barnes is a slippery coach to figure out and his Texas teams are no different. I’m not an expert on the Longhorns, but I feel like there are only two Rick Barnes teams: 1.) the upper-middle tier talented team that flies under the radar while racking up a solid number of wins and a tournament appearance; 2.) the ultra-for-Barnes-talented squad that flies a little too close to the sun before bursting into spectacular flame out. I feel like there’s no middle ground.

Which is why this could be the biggest gamble on my list. The Longhorns are looking really good so far. They’ve got a slew of wins on their resume and just two losses. One of those losses was to the buzzsaw of Kentucky, which they only lost by twelve and surely covered the spread4. That’s a win, right? And they’ve done it all without phenom guard Isaiah Taylor since the Iowa game back in November.

Which is why I was hesitant to put them this high. With Taylor coming back from injury, I worry that this will morph back into the type of Barnes team that doesn’t wait till the tournament to shit the bed. If that’s the case, backing them is going to look stupid. But I’m prepared to look stupid. This year’s Texas team eats glass like it is their fucking job and the talent up and down the roster fits what Sith Lord wants in a basketball team. Are they a threat to win it all? Of course not, but could they sneak into winning the Big XII X XII? Of course.

#2 – Kansas Jayhawks

Last Season’s Shame: 25-10 (14-4) – No need to rehash the dirty deets here. Not my favorite vintage to watch, though going down to Stanford the first weekend…yeah, that was pretty rough.
Emoji-nal State:
KU
Non-Conference Record:
11-2
Projected Conference Record: 15-3
Projected Total:
26-5

Ranked Game Record: 2-1
Baller Wins:
Michigan State by five to take the Orlando Classic crown for the side of righteousness.
Brutal Losses: 
Two way tie: Kentucky punching straight through our faces to the tune of 32 or Temple smoking us 25. Look, if you’re going to lose, you might as well make it look like you never bothered to lace up your dunks.

I think it’s obvious what I think about this year’s vintage at this point. Especially if you read every post. To give a quick Cliff’s Notes: this is one of the weirder teams of the Toupee era. We’re bursting with a good mixture of talent, experience, and skill…yet we can’t seem to string any of it together into a workable whole for more than 20 minutes a game. If that. For every game where we get a monster, career performance from one of our guys, someone else is playing like they forgot there was a game going on. Most of the time, our sheer talent wins out, getting us the brass ring almost in spite of ourselves. Other times, mercifully few this season so far, no one steps up and we end up getting embarrassed out of the building. Which is why we need to be ready to assume crash positions at any point during any game this season.

This is not, as currently humming, a team prepared to win a National Championship, let alone a clear and convincing win for our eleventh straight regular season.

Which is why I couldn’t put us at the top of the list. At least not alone.

Look, I’ve seen enough teams under the stewardship of Self overachieve to keep the conference title streak alive and so I can’t rule us out to continue the streak. I don’t have faith in this squad. Not yet. But I have never-ending faith in Toupee. He will pull this team together, mash it together into a competitor. It’s that faith and the belief that in nine weeks, we’ll be seeing the vision of the team that we’ve had flashes of so far this season. And that team will be rounding into form at the right time. But they’ll also be tying with Iowa fucking State.

#1 – Iowa State Cyclones

Last Season’s Shame: 28-8 (11-7) – Probably the best season in Ames in a while, especially since they didn’t have the Prophet to be the focal point of their intense self-esteem issues. They capped off a great regular season with their first Big XII X XII title since 2000 and a Sweet Sixteen exit to eventual champion UCONN.
Emoji-nal State:
ISU
Non-Conference Record:
10-2
Projected Conference Record: 15-3
Projected Total:
25-5

Ranked Game Record: 1-0
Baller Wins:
An 18-point win over then #18 Arkansas is only eclipsed by a 50-point ritual sacrifice of the Mississippi Valley State Sun Devils. I swear they’re D-I despite the insane logo.
Brutal Losses:
Probably losing to the Gamecocks a mere three days before the start of conference play.

Obviously, the Mayor of Ames has done this before: had an impressive start to the season, only to get into Big XII X XII play and watch life pump the breaks a little bit. I’m sure, given the talent on the roster and what they’ve been doing under Hoiberg, an 11-7 finish in Conference wasn’t an ideal way to end the season. Which is why I’m worried that this team is out for blood now.

Iowa State is like West Virginia, in that they’re scoring and scoring a lot. But they’re doing it considerably more efficiently. Currently, they’re in the top-20 nationally in both scoring (82.4 PPG, 14th in country) and percentage (49.4%, 16th in country). They’re doing what WVU is attempting, but doing it better. I fully expect both of those to cool off when we get into the thick of conference play. But I can’t imagine it falls off nearly enough for them to not win at least 80% of their league games. If there’s ever a year for us to lose our seat at the top of the Conference, this is the year. And if there’s a team to knock us off, I don’t trust Texas to do it, mostly because that wouldn’t fit with the Sith Lord’s narrative. No, Iowa State, this year, is the biggest threat to our streak. It would cap the story that started with Melvin Weatherwax and the Prophet dunk. This is how these things work. I’m not happy about it, but here we are.

Of course, at the risk of giving up my Jayhawk cred here, I’d like to point out that I do have us tying with the Cyclones. However, the only reason they’re slotted above us is because of the previously mentioned feeling that we’re going to drop both to these shits only to redeem ourselves in the Big XII X XII Tournament.

God, I hate this season already.

*

That’s it. I’m sure you’re all like 80% as exhausted reading this shit as I was writing it. I believe I did the best I could, at least in terms of ranking the teams if not their actual records. If you have a problem with any of them, come at me, bro. Now, if you’re interested in a little peek at how the sausage is made here is the spreadsheet with all my predictions on it (and if you’re really interested in like how I slaughtered the pig for the sausage making, here’s a scan of all the notes that ultimately grew into this twin behemoth). The first sheet is me literally picking every game for every team. A “1” means I think they win that game and a “0” should be pretty fucking obvious, but just in case…that’s a loss, Jimmy. Sheet 2 is conference standings at the end of the year, based on my picks for the individual games. Yes, for like the hundredth time, I think ISU is going to beat us twice in the regular season. It just feels like it’s coming back on us for reasons I can’t quite understand. Finally, I threw in a conference tourney bracket that I filled out, mostly to make me feel better about picking against us. Nothing quite like the tantalizing possibility of embarassing Weatherwax at what should be his team’s crowning glory, ammirite?

Ok, that’s it. For making it through about 6,300 words, you deserve a medal. I don’t have any handy, so rain check? Now get out of here. I’m sure you all have families and shit you need to hug and feign affection for.

*

FOOTNOTES

1 – Okay, confession…I wrote that intro graph after I got home from the Mavs/Nets game and wanted to talk about something timely. You know, because the temporal physics of the internet allow me to write things in the past, update them, then post them in the future. OoOoOoOoO! What a world! Anyway, I have some thoughts on the trade (shocker!) that I’d love to get into, but I’ll save that for another time. Just know that I find it insane that the Cavs would want to ship out one chucking head case for another in Smith (Andrew, your email was spot on in terms of why this trade is insane). Are they really that hard up for scoring with LeBron out that they want to bring in another guy to clash with Kyrie? What are the chances they end up waiving the guy just because? Seriously, I don’t totally understand it from the Cavs side. From the Knicks side, sure. Just not sure what Cleveland hopes to gain here. Back

2 – And apparently the hottest start for the Mountaineers since like 1981, according to Seth Greenburg during halftime of the Notre Dame-North Carolina game. That’s kind of shocking, since I figured they’d had at least a few good seasons during the Huggy Bear reign. Back

3 – Yes, I know, I know…but come on! At least we make it to the second weekend sometimes. Back

4 – Is it possible for us to create a new set of rules for the 2014-15 Kentucky team? Can we only count wins for them if they cover the spread? I mean, they’ve got to be getting like 18-plus per game, so at least that would make this season sort of competitive. Back



Big XII Preview, Part 2 – …Spit On Them From Such a Lofty Perch by longdistancejayhawk

Welcome to part two of my mega-conference preview. In the previous installment, I knocked out all the teams that are going to be in the cellar of the Big XII X XII, covering each of them with analysis that ranged from “somewhat informed” to “has TCU been on TV in the tri-state area?” I want to assure you that, I go out of my way to watch as much pre-conference Big XII X XII games as possible before writing this column. Just know that, thanks to the apparent lack of interest in Horned Frogs basketball in and around Brooklyn1, I couldn’t get around to it. Enough preamble! Let’s get down to the dirty business of ranking the top of the conference.

This is part two. This is a lazy way of differentiating.

This is part two. This is a lazy way of differentiating.

I have serious doubts that spitting on your opponents from the heights of the Big XII X XII season standings would in any way satiate their hunger. I know that. Let’s not get tied up in semantics or calling out the fact that I just wanted to make a reference to a Jucifer record2. You know, that and I wanted there to be a connection between the two3. So, with that out of the way, let’s get down to a little recap of what happened in the first 3,500-word monster of this bad boy.

PROJECTED STANDINGS AT THE END OF THE SEASON, PART 1 RECAP

  1. ?
  2. ??
  3. ???
  4. ????
  5. ?????4
  6. Iowa State
  7. West Virginia
  8. TCU
  9. Oklahoma
  10. Texas Tech

That’s a motley crew, to be sure. Looking back on it, I’m starting to second guess my Iowa State at sixth pick. That’s probably good enough to make the tourney, but there’s no garauntees. It’s probably going to come back to bite me in the ass, just as a certain team that is conspicuously absent from the garbage crew of the league is probably going to come back to bite me in the ass. Look, I’m no professional, here. Get off my back! I just go with what I think, feel, and, in some cases, a gut feeling based on prior history.

So, who’s going to take home the regular season crown? Who will challenge them for that spot? Will Toupee have enough caustic remarks to make it through the season? Only time will tell. But in the meantime, I can ramble about things that will probably not come true.

#5 – Baylor Bears

Non-Conference Record: 8-4
Projected Conference Record: 10-8
Projected Total:
18-12

Ranked Game Record: 1-1 (9 point win over Kentucky, 7 point loss to Gonzaga5)
Baller Wins:
A nine point beating of Kentucky6
Brutal Losses:
Losing by four to a Northwestern team that’ll probably be 8th or worse in the B1G Ten.

Brady Heslip has a weird concept of corrective lenses, people. That said, he's probably going to drive you batty this season.

Brady Heslip has a weird concept of corrective lenses, people. That said, he’s probably going to drive you batty this season.

Baylor, like a certain other school in the Republic of Texas, is some kind of tease. When you think they’re going to be good, they’re crap. When you think they’re overrated, they rip off a shit ton of wins, beat you in the Big XII X XII tournament, and push their way to an Elite Eight berth against eventual Champ Kentucky. That was a pretty solid showing for a team that I worried had no guard to feed Quincy Acy or Perry Jones III. I was totally convinced that the hole left by LaceDarius Dunn would kill them.

And I was wrong7. Which is why I’m going to give Baylor some credit here. Last year, they didn’t lose a game until conference play, where they fell victim to the rest of the teams at the top of the conference (twice to God’s Team and Missouri, once each to K-State and Iowa State). Six loses on the season isn’t a terrible record. So, while I’m willing to go ahead and give them the benefit of the doubt in terms of finish, I think they’re going to suffer a few more losses on the year. One big thing is that I still don’t trust Brady Heslip to be the voice of veteran leadership on a team that features a ton of young guys. Yes, the young guys are playing well, but Scott Drew isn’t quite Calipari when it comes to trusting him with roster stocked with green players. At some point, this team’s youth is going to catch up to it. Especially when you look at the rest of the league8, where teams are trending towards being deep with experience as well as cohesive basketball. Assuming that there are no recruiting violations or NBA defections, Baylor might be coming back. Consider this season a teaser trailer for that time.

Actually, you could probably consider that Kentucky game a teaser trailer for that time. As with the next squad on the list, I’m basing some of what I think they’re going to do on a game where they seemed to be clicking after some early season missteps.

#4 – Texas Longhorns

Non-Conference Record: 8-5
Projected Conference Record: 11-7
Projected Total:
19-12

Ranked Game Record: 1-2 (18 point domination of UNC, 23 point implosion to Georgetown9 and an 11 point loss to Michigan State)
Baller Wins:
A complete desruction of a UNC team ranked #23 at the time
Brutal Losses:
A UCLA team in perpetual turmoil is kind of embarassing, but that’s nothing compared to losing to Chaminade in the Maui Invitational. First off, they host the thing as a D-II school, so they’re more of a symbolic game than a legit game. Second, Sith Lord should be embarassed about the fact that TCU beat a D-III school while his squad got dropped by thir-fucking-teen to Chaminade. I mean, christ, their nickname is the goddamned Swords. Not Sword Wielding Knights or the William Wallace’s Swingin’ Bastard Swords. Just inanimate swords. They could be sitting on a table for all we know. Whatever the case, YOU SHOULDN’T BE LOSING TO CHAMINADE, BARNES!

…Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand here it is! The boldest of bold picks! I seriously think the Longhorns can do this! They can grab fourth place in this top-heavy league10 based on attrition and my inability to stop picking Rick Barnes to succeed. I don’t know what it is about me and this guy. I can’t help myself. Every time the Longhorns make the tournament, I pick them to make a Sweet Sixteen, and weep openly as they tank my bracket in the first round. It’s just the way this shit goes.

What the fuck ref, the force is strong with me! What? My dead eyes? Just a part of the force, brother.

What the fuck ref, the force is strong with me! What? My dead eyes? Just a part of the force, brother.

But enough about the past. Let’s talk about the very near future. I’ve watched two Longhorns games this season. One of them was the above mentioned Georgetown game where the ‘Horns played like garbage, getting crushed by Georgetown’s size. By the end of that one, they looked like a completely demoralized squad. The other game I watched was the annual Benedict Roy thrashing at the hands of Sith Lord. I don’t know what it is about Roy now that he’s at Carolina11, but he seems to have a hard tim beating Barnes recently. More importantly, though, is that the ‘Horns actually looked good in that game, taking on a UNC team that might not be that great. The thing was Texas actually looked like they knew what was going on, instead of the outsized and outmatched team that got killed by Georgetown. They looked like they were getting it.

That’s what I’m basing this pick on, that Sith Lord’s guys are getting it. It’s a hunch which could seriously kill my credibility, but I don’t care. It’s just how I feel. Part of it might be that I want to try and find a legitimate rival for the departed Missouri. Another part of it is that I believe that, by picking the Longhorns to place here as well as possibly have a solid showing the conference tournament, they might manage to squeak into the tournament with a mid-seed. And I can finally exact my revenge by accurately estimating their ability and look like a goddamned genius when I pick them to get bounced in the first round.

No, I’m not making this pick with emotion. Not at all12.

#3 – Kansas State Wildcats

Non-Conference Record: 11-2
Projected Conference Record: 11-7
Projected Total:
22-9

Ranked Game Record: 1-2 (6 points over Florida, 14 point loss to Michigan and 16 down to Gonzaga13)
Baller Wins:
A convincing showing against Florida14
Brutal Losses:
Either the 14 point rout by Michigan or the 16 point killing by Gonzaga, take your pick

Do you have the time, to watch me hoop?

Do you have the time, to watch me hoop?

Kansas State perpetually lives in the shadow of their goliath cousin to the east. I’ve said it about a million times now, but I honestly never felt nearly the same virtiol towards K-State that I did towards Missouri. In fact, the only time I ever got worked up about them or their town that reeks strongly of manure was when we actually face them. Outside of that, I couldn’t give a shit. Whereas Missouri…I would cross the street to whisper “Rock Chalk” in the ear of someone wearing a Missouri shirt. Then, scream “NEVER GRADUATE!” as they stood there, dumbfounded. With the Wildcats, I actually want them to succeed in the same way an older brother is proud of their little sibling following in their footsteps. You know, as long as they don’t beat us or anything. Throw on top of that the fact that Frank Martin broke the hears of the Wildcats everywhere, only to be replaced by Bruce Webber and I’m kind or rooting for them. Not to win more games than us. But you know, make the tourney, good showing. That sort of thing.

I’ve watched bits and pieces of their games so far this season and I like what they’re doing. McGruder is still there and he actually freightens me as a player. I know he’s the kind of guy that’s going to get up for conference games, probably pushing his current season average of 13.7 closer to the 15 mark. He’s just a good player that’s never in the conversation of great players, that I hear anyway. I’m also amped to see what Billie Joe Rodriguez does this season15. I love that kid! He’s one of those kids that plays like he’s eight feet tall and I love his scrappy style of play. Throw in the fact that they’re returning fucking Spradling and Henriquez and this team could surprise a lot of people. Though not me. Since they’re totally coming in third in the conference.

#2 – Oklahoma State Cowboys

Non-Conference Record: 10-2
Projected Conference Record: 15-3
Projected Total:
25-5

Ranked Game Record: 1-0 (20 point blasting of that really good NC State squad, a 1 point edging by Gonzaga)
Baller Wins:
The Cowboys embarassed a very good NC State Wolfpack, besting them by 20 and limiting C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown, and Richard “Thurston” Howell to a combined 14
Brutal Losses:
The Cowboys lost by ten to Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech barely understands basketball and besides, they’re mascot is like a toothless hillbilly version of the Hoosiers

Oklahoma State. What’s there to say about them that hasn’t already been said? Don’t worry, I’m sure I can figure something out. I was so, so hoping that they would fall off somewhat with the departure of Keiton fucking Page16. I’m tired of this team ever being good since they have Toupee’s number. With the Big XII X XII down to ten, we have to play them at Gallagher-Iba, where Toupee has a seriously sketchy track record. Seriously. I wanted them to be a one-note song with Le’Bryan Nash and nothing else to hang their hat on.

Then, they have to go and rack up a 10-2 record coming into conference play. Ugh. I hate having to admit they’re good at all, since that means admitting that, best case scenario, we’re splitting our series with them this year. Good job, universe, you got me. Now that the melodrama’s out of the way, I love that OSU’s not just competitive, but ranked at this point in the season. I love what I’ve seen of not just Nash, but most of the team. They play with a team mentality that, even in the loss to the Zags, showed they’re ready to compete right now. Throw in the fact that Travis Ford is a good coach and seems to be a decent human being, and you’ve got a contender, a team that could challenge us for the regular season title. Not, of course, that it’s actually going to happen. Just that they could do it.

You really can't hate on a dude who does this to announce his college pick. Especially when you consider Nerlens Noel's shaved head business.

You really can’t hate on a dude who does this to announce his college pick. Especially when you consider Nerlens Noel’s shaved head business.

#1 – Kansas Jayhawks

Non-Conference Record: 11-1
Projected Conference Record: 16-2
Projected Total:
27-3

Ranked Game Record: 1-1 (barely lost to Michigan State, controlled Ohio State and got an 8 point dubbya)
Baller Wins:
A truly spectacular performance on the road against Ohio State
Brutal Losses:
There’s only one, so it’s got to be Tom fucking Izzo’s Michigan State

You should never bet against one of the best coaches out there, especially when he spends his off season crushing HRs in celebrity softball.

You should never bet against one of the best coaches out there, especially when he spends his off season crushing HRs in celebrity softball.

We’re good and we’re good to win at least a share of our ninth straight Big XII X XII title17. Fuck that we’re really good. There’s the obvious concern that we might be peaking early. I get that. But I don’t think this team is in danger of peaking early. Our roster is stocked with veteran leaders, a POY-caliber freshman, and a bench full of dudes who could start at a slew of other schools. We’re playing better than I’ve seen us play, game in, game out, than I’ve seen us play in years. Last year, we made it to the title game on sheer will and determination. This year’s squad is better than that. We play with a ruthless, destructive style that will be hard to top in the conference. No one has that same beautiful mixture of talent and experience to hold a candle to us.

That’s not to say we won’t drop two game. I’m feeling an Oklahoma State loss and maybe a Texas loss. That’s all I see happening to us this season. I can assure that this isn’t just my usual cockiness shining through. This is a firm belief that we’re playing the best basketball in our conference, maybe in the country, right now. I’m sure if you’ve read this far, you’re a Jayhawk fan, so this shouldn’t be a shock to you. Let me assure you one more time: I’m not saying this because I believe we can’t lose out of blind loyalty to KU. This is a firm belief that we’re the best in the Big XII X XII.

Allow me a minute to share an anecdote. On NYE, Alex and I went to our friends’ house out in Queens for a little dinner party. One of the guys there was a pretty knowledgable NCAA basketball fan. While he went to UConn, he told me about how a friend of his came from a pretty serious Jayhawk family. While he was telling me the story, he kept saying “I seriously only pick against Kansas early because it pisses my friend off. I pretty much assume Bill Self is never going to lose.” If even a Huskies fan can admit that Bill Self is a fucking titan, it should be readily apparent that you should never bet against the man. Let alone bet against him when he’s got a team as stacked, top to bottom, as the team we’re running this year.

I’m predicting yet another trophy in our trophy case. And there are few things finer than that in basketball.

*

Phew. That was a long one. Longer than the first installment. No less accurate, though. If you take issue with anything I said here, feel free to let me know, either in the comments or via Twitter or something. I welcome all criticism.

Also, shout out to Rock Chalk Talk for re-tweeting me yesterday. That was pretty awesome on their part.

*

FOOTNOTES

1 – I don’t even know if they have a game I could go dig up on WatchESPN.com. I firmly believe basketball is something that has to be seen to truly grasp what happened in a game (since some games look close on paper, but are really just blowouts drawn closer by extended bench minutes). That said, I looked at their results. They can barely buy a basket and when faced with God’s Team, let alone Oklahoma State or Baylor, I just don’t think they’re going to be able to hang. Back

2 – I swear I’ve used the “if thine enemy hunger” line before. I double-checked via a Google “site:longdistancejayhawk.com” search and couldn’t find anything. If I’m recycling, I’m sorry. If you’re new here and don’t know what I’m talking about, I never, ever recycle a goddamned thing. What is this? Amateur hour? Back

3 – Much like the way I used a line from “Shady Lane” by Pavement to connect the preview and recap of Georgetown in the Maui Invitational last season. Between Pavement and Jucifer, I’m guessing my eclectic taste in music is on full display right now. Back

4 – WordPress, for all it’s greatness and funcationality, will not, under any circumstances, let you change the starting number for a list. Or make it count backwards from a formatting perspective, it made more sense to have a shit ton of ?s where the eventual teams will be placed. Back

5 – Can anyone else think of an instance where one team not only played a majority of another conference’s teams and then managed to own them as much as Gonzaga seems to be doing to the Big XII X XII this season? Back

6 – Which might not be as baller as we thought it was coming into the season. Not that Kentucky’s bad, per se. Just that, given their struggles on the season thus far and the fact that even the voters can’t give Calipari the default vote these days, they might not be all that great. Of course, byt tournament time, they’ll probably be a one seed and everyone’s pick to win it all. Back

7 – Which should probably give you some level of pause when it comes to me, or really anyone, trying to tell you what’s going to happen in any sports situation. We’re all making it up as we go along. Back

8 – Except maybe for the team that’s coming up immediately after them. I have irrational faith in Sith Lord and…I’ll be honest…I just miss Missouri and I want the default rivalry to mean something rather than us just straight up smoking the Longhorns. Okay, now you know who I’ve locked in at fourth. Fuck me, I’m already regretting this. Back

9 – Did I mention that I actually went to this game? It was the Jimmy V Classic at MSG. A bunch of my ex-pat Jayhawks and I wanted to see some live college ball and the games were actually pretty entertaining on the whole. The UConn/NC State game was fun because both teams are pretty good, especially NC State with C.J. Leslie, Thurston Howell, and Lorenzo Brown, and they both seemed hell bent on winning the game. NC State was most impressive since at least two of those guys looked Association ready during the game (specifically Leslie, who had this crazy fastbreak moment where he faked a defender with a split second shoulder shrug because his face was a stone cold mask). The Georgetown/Texas game was interesting because Georgetown looked like world beaters and Texas look like total shit. I’ve seen a couple other Texas games so far this year and I don’t think they’re as bad as that game would have you believe. But they’re not great either. It seems like their biggest problem is that they don’t have any idea what to do on offense and spend most of the time trying to figure out if anyone’s actually tall enough to take the ball inside. I think they’d have been a damn sight better with Myck Kabongo back in their lineup that night. As it is, they looked like a talented team that couldn’t execute their way out of a wet paper sack. Back

10 – Which admittedly lacks a certain level of star talent from top to bottom. I feel like most years, we have a bunch of guys that excite for their clear NBA-caliber talent (Durant, Griffen, and, recently, Royce White) as well as guys that are fun to watch, even as they’re torching our guys (Keiton fucking Paige, anyone?). This year, there are plenty of guys I enjoy watching, but I don’t feel the same level of wattage coming off the conference as in previous years. Back

11 – I did a little research on the subject (two caveats: 1.) I did all the math myself, so that could be off; 2.) some of the data came from Wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt) to see whether Rick Barnes’ Texas squads own Williams’ Carolina squads or if Barnes just owns Williams. During their on-going series, Carolina is 1-3 against the Longhorns. The question then is: how did the Williams Jayhawks squads fare against Barnes’ Longhorns? I looked through results from 1998 (Barnes’ first UT year) and 2003 (William’s last KU year) and I found that we 4-1 against them during the overlap in tenures. So, kind of the opposite of what’s happened with the Texas/Carolina series in the last four years. I’m going to run with the argument that Barnes is a good coach and not just incredibly lucky against the Tar Heels. Back

12 – In all seriousness I believe that Texas is better than their record and better than the shitastic showing at MSG. In fact, what I’m actually envisioning here is Sith Lord managing to get his team to play passable, competent basketball that’s just good enough to win all the games he should win, plus stealing a couple he shouldn’t, based on the chemistry that develops with his squad. As much as I want to see Kabaongo come back, it wouldn’t surprise me if, feeling fan pressure to get him on the floor post-suspension, Barnes rushed him back into the line up, where they go .500 through the last part of the season. They’ll gel just enough with Kabongo to make a decent showing in the conference tourney before all the disjointedness catches up to them in the first round against a fired up mid-major. Fuck…now that I’m writing this, I’m starting to think this is what I should have said about the Longhorns. Whatever. What’s done cannot be undone. Moving along… Back

13 – Oh. My. God. Mark Few’s team has a vendetta against our conference. Avoid at all costs! AVOID AT ALL COSTS! Back

14 – Unpopular opinion alert. I seriously hate Billy Donovan. I think he’s the most overrated coach out there. Throw in the fact that he’s grossly overpaid, especially when you consider that he won two consecutive titles…then didn’t make it back to the tournament. I honestly don’t think there’s anything special about the guy, in much the same way I don’t think Gary Williams is an incredible coach. It’s just my prerogative. Back

15 – That’s Angel, in case you were wondering. He looks so much like Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day, that I just can’t help calling him that all the time. I thought he was great his freshman campaign, so I can only imagine he’s getting better this season. Back

16 – Speaking of whom…did anyone else watch the Gonzaga game? I watched the first half and the announcers kept talking about Page. Not about his legacy. About what he’d said that day. I’m sure he works for the school now. It’s the least they can do for their leading scorer. Though, I didn’t hear what the context for talking to him was. I kept imaging him like J.O. Incandenza in Infiite Jest when he becomes the wraith that haunts Gately, but more like a wraith haunting the hallways of Stillwater’s basketball facilities. Back

17 – Just so you know, when I do these bad boys, I actually go to the trouble of picking what I think will happen in each of the games played in the conference. There’s a whole spreadsheet and everything. When I was picking all the games, I seriously contemplated a whether or not to have us tie with Oklahoma State. I may or may not have redone my predictions a couple fo times just to see if I could bring myself to do it. Ultimately, I couldn’t. However, if you’re interested in how I got to the numbers I got to, this is the spreadsheet: Conference Predictions 2012-13. It should be noted, when I built the spreadsheet originally, Missouri and Texas A&M were still in the conference, hence the mismatched colors and out of alphabetical order of the team names. Back



After Battle Report: Belmont Blandies by longdistancejayhawk
December 16, 2012, 9:07 pm
Filed under: Recap | Tags: , , , , , , ,
Toupee looks on, disappointed that his son couldn't manage to pass a fucking ball.

Toupee looks on, disappointed that his son couldn’t manage to pass a fucking ball.

That one went pretty much as expected, all the way down to us almost beating them by 30 again. Everything clicked and God’s Team looked like they were ready to take on just about anyone. Granted, the Blandies aren’t a Kentucky, but everything about our performance Saturday night was perfect. So, let’s get down to business.

The Good: The Rock Chalk Squad got three minutes on the court together. Not quite the amount of time I’d expected, given how handily we dispatched Belmont. This was a game where it wasn’t even close. All of our guys seemed to be on the same page, firing on all cylinders and, save for a brief lapse during the middle of the first half, we never looked like we were going to do anything other than win this matchup. The best thing about our performance last night was that we managed to not get burned by Ian Clark really at all1. The guy shot 1-7 from behind the arc and it clearly hurt Belmont’s ability to even remotely hang with our guys. If we hadn’t done such a solid job on him, I don’t think we would have ended with a 29 point egde.

On top of that, I adored the level of team work on display last night. The two biggest plays to me were both fast breaks. The first was another Releford/Young “no, I insist, you take the ball”2 break. Seriously. The first one I saw was during the San Jose State game. We were treated to another last night. This is probably my favorite recurring play so far this season. The other fastbreak that I loved was the one where we managed to have four of five players touch the ball. Tharpapalooza tipped the ball forward and Johnson, Releford, and Traylor all got their hands on it. That’s teamwork, chummies.

Really, there isn’t anything to bad to say about the team in this one. Even Tharpapalooza managed to not turn the ball over. Schuyler, I think you can appreciate how momentous that is.

The Bad: Tyler Self made a pretty atrocious turnover towards the end of the game. I’m assuming that Toupee spent the car ride home chewing him out3. That was a pretty stupid play and, of all the plays last night, the only specific one I can remember that was offensively bad4.

Withering Bill Self Quote of the Night: If you’re not pissing excellence, then you don’t rate with Toupee:

“I think we’re getting better. I don’t think we’re terrific by any means, but I think we’re getting better.”

This is the reaction that B-Mac and Swashbuckler had when they found out they were splitting the JCTD Award for this one.

This is the reaction that B-Mac and Swashbuckler had when they found out they were splitting the JCTD Award for this one.

JCTD Award: This was a tough one. B-Mac killed it pretty much all night, knocking down everything he took5. And then, there was Releford. I mean, 17 points and shutting the Clark the fuck down? Both of them had similar stat lines offensively, but Releford contributed a ton on the defensive end. But every time B-Mac touched the ball, you could feel the electricity through the TV. Though Swashbuckler will be one Jayhawk I remember an insane amount of while McLemore will be a one-and-done6. I wish I could split this award, like Solomon. It’s a tough call…tough call…Fuck it, they’re both winners in my book, even if Releford doesn’t know the difference between an “offender” and an “offensive player.

Looking Ahead: We’ve got the Richmond Spiders on Tuesday night. You might remember them as the team that we attempted to fight when they were circling up to pray or something during the 2010-11 tournament. I’m pretty sure we’re going to crush the shit out of them. The biggest shame is that I won’t be able to use “I’m not a player but I crush a lot…of spiders” since I already did that one.

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FOOTNOTES

1 – For a guy that came into the game setting nets on fire from beyond the arc, Clark was pretty fucking quiet Saturday night. I kept waiting for him to get hot and start torching us, but it never happened. Credit where credit is due, Swashbuckler was on his a-game, defensively. Clark never got into a rhythm from opening tip to final buzzer. Also, during the interview immediately after the game, Relly referred to Clark as an “offender.” Back

2 – Probably my favorite fastbreak tandem on this year’s vintage. The fact that there have been two of these incredible breaks so far this season bodes well for more of the same. In case you missed it, they basically go down on the break and just pass the bal back and forth. You get the impression watching it that they’d keep passing the ball to each other indefinitely and the only thing that stops them is someone has to score or step out of bounds and turn the ball over. Back

3 – Probably in a minivan. I’m obsessed with the Toupee/Son dynamic. I just imagine Toupee driving Tyler to practice in a minivan and Toupee catching Tyler drinking one of his beers in the garage. I mean, the mustache is clearly a sign of teenage rebellion. Back

4 – That was really the worst play I saw all night. What the fuck was Stache seeing? He literally threw the ball to the other team without anyone else touching it. There was also a roughly five minute stretch where we looked a little lethargic on both ends of the court. But we didn’t look like total shit, so it was all good. Back

5 – I tweeted that the McLemore was trying to make the game into his own version of Memento. He started the game by drilling a corner three and on the first play in the second half, he did the same thing. Ridiculous. Back

6 – Not that it matters, really. Not only is he phenomenal, but he also seems to be getting better by the game. On top of that, I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll say it again, he’s clearly a team player, not out for himself. You can’t really fault him for the fact he has to spend a year in college. Back



Godspeed, and Thanks for All the Memories by longdistancejayhawk

It’s been two days since the season ended and I’d like to say that I’ve managed to find a Zen calm and acceptance of our loss. But that’s not true. I’d already found it in the last 30 seconds of our National Championship loss to Kentucky. Yes, I wanted us to win but the odds were so stacked against us that I didn’t think we had a huge shot of taking home the hardware. I figured we could pull off one of the greatest upsets of all time, match 2008 as one of the greatest seasons I’d borne witness to, and, if it came at the expense of Calipari again, so much the better. I knew we had no business being in the title game, but that didn’t stop me from toying with the attendant “what ifs…” and “this could be our year…in a rebuilding year, no less!” But the inevitability of fate and the fact that, with all the talent he pulls at each of his coaching stops, there’s no way Calipari couldn’t manage to win at least one National Championship seemed to be saying that it wasn’t our year.

And really, it wasn’t.

But the season wasn’t a total loss. I had no meltdown, no feeling of concern that we were destined for anything other than a charmed season that helped me feel more at ease with our team and the idea that, sometimes, you can’t be Goliath on steroids. This season, full of highs (19 point comeback at Allen Fieldhouse against Missouri, anyone?) and lows (we lost to a Davidson team that no one was talking about, for Christ’s sake), is one that I will always remember. The fact that we capped such a crazy fun season with an improbable ride to the title game makes it that much sweeter. I’m going to alway remember this tournament for that glorious run, as well as the fact that it doubled as Jeff Withey’s coming out party1. I mean, that gutsy performance throughout our six games was something that I honestly have never seen before and probably won’t see again.

Going into the game on Monday, I had a feeling that we were going to lose. I couldn’t quite explain it because I also thought that there was a possibility we could win it, too. The thing about it is that, after years of talking heads shouting about the inevitability of a Kentucky title even when DeMarcus Cousins was dropping f-bombs in Slimeball’s face during timeouts, it finally happened. Even a busted clock is right twice a day. It probably didn’t help that this Calipari team was way better than almost all the ones that he’s fielded in the past. Sure, they were just as soulless and seemed to be playing every game like an NBA audition reel, but they were playing together. They were destroying opponents and seemed to genuinely like playing with each other. You can’t say that about most of the temas that Cal has put on the court. It didn’t help that, save for a buzzer beater loss to Indiana and Vanderbilt’s superbly executed gameplan against them in the SEC Tournament, they were completely wrecking opponents. So, this was the year that Calipari finally won it. We were just more cannon fodder, so I’m okay with not winning.

I’m even more okay with the fact that the Kentucky game was just as much a display of the Wildcats’ crazy team of future NBA All-Stars as it was a display of what we’ve done all year. No matter the odds, no matter getting down, no matter the refs giving the other team some cheap calls, we never backed down. It was almost like this year’s vintage knew what everyone was saying about them and decided that gritty comebacks would show the degree of difficulty needed to get people to finally agree that we were an exceptionally good team this season. Not excellent, not great, but nothing near the shit show that I had nightmares about starting back in October. The fact that Kentucky was up on us by double-digits didn’t stop us from playing as hard as we could. In fact, even though we lost, the the fact that we gave them a scare at the end was more than I cold have asked for. We never gave up. We never looked at the score board, said “fuck it, it’s over,” and laid down rather than face the firing squad. We never did that. Could we have won the game? Of course. We were right there at the end. But we didn’t. Shots didn’t fall, Kentucky played better, and that’s that. But it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Yeah, I’m upset that the season’s over. I’m upset that I just watched Tyshawn and T-Rob’s last game in the crimson and blue. I’m upset that I’ll have to wait until mid-October to have my annual Midnight Madness watch party2. I’m upset, to be sure, but I’m not upset that we lost. We made the title game. In a rebuilding year (whatever that really means in college hoops). We didn’t get embarrassed. We had no business being there and I was happy to have a Sweet Sixteen. What this team gave me, in terms of enjoyment and a sobering season that reminded me what it’s like to not be stacked with future NBA players that smash opponents and I can pencil into a title, cannot be taken away, even in a loss.

I’m sure in a week or two, I’ll go back through some of our games, reread some of my pieces on here and offer a well-thought out assessment of the season. It’s just what I do. I’m not ready for that quite yet. But I am ready to salute the 2011-12 Jayhawks. You guys gave me more than I could have anticipated this season. I will raise my glass to you. Rock Chalk Jayhawk.

*

FOOTNOTES

1 – Not to detract from anything that the Prophet did in the tournament to get me psyched for next season, but WITHEY! went out of his way to prove to the world that he is easily the best center in the game right now. In the NC State game, he tied Cole Aldrich at second on the single game tournament block record, just one punched ball away from Shaq’s truly mindblowing effort over BYU. To add a cherry to that sundae, The Master of Puppets knocked of Joakim Noah for the single tournament block record with a truly devestating 31 blocks in our six tournament games. Immediately after the tournament, WITHEY! stated that he’s coming back for his senior season, which means that, for yet another year, we’re going to have a truly terriffying interior presence. Add to the Johnson coming back to run the point, The Swashbuckler giving us more of his shut down defense, and, at long last, the debuts of McLemore and Traylor, we’re certainly going to be in fine shape for next season. Sure, we lost Manning to the Golden Hurricanes, but I think Jeff will be just fine with whoever we bring in to replace our big man coach. Back

2 – It isn’t a party so much as me watching the five hours of coverage in my apartment, furiously typing Tweets and notes about the 30-second snippets of scrimmages they show. Am I wearing my shirt, hat, and hoodie in this scenario? Absolutely. Back



Coincidences by longdistancejayhawk
April 2, 2012, 11:27 am
Filed under: Preview | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Before I dive into the meat of this one, I’d like to give a shout out to Josh for sharing some of his videos of Mass St. from Saturday night. The first two were bad ass snippets of people going crazy and more crazy. However, my favorite video is the third which caught the pep band rocking out while fireworks went off all around them. Enjoy these little snippets as we keep our finger crossed for more like it should good triumph over sleaze tonight.

As should be totally obvious at this point, I can’t believe we’re here. I mean, I go into every season wanting us to win a title, but I know that the odds are supremely stacked against us. Even when we have world beating teams, I know that it’s a hard thing to accomplish, winning it all. That said, I feel, as Andrew pointed out earlier in the season, that there’s something going on here and that we could be in a charmed situation. We could definitely win it all. I’d go into what all I think we need to do to win it, but it’s more of the same that I’ve written over and over for the last couple of weeks. We need to play solid defense for a straight 40 minutes, we need to keep Anthony Davis from getting a shit ton of blocks, and we need to be smart offensively. Basically, we need to just play a great basketball game and I think there’s a possibility that we take home the hardware tonight.

More than the obvious, though, is the superstituous for me. It should be completely obvious that I am a superstitious individual when it comes to basketball. I assume that certain things outside of the game itself influence the outcome. That’s why I stopped wearing my 2008 Final Four t-shirt. Every time I wore it, we lost. It’s not a summer only sleeping shirt. But there’s something more interesting, superstition wise, going on this season. Think back to the last title. In 2008, the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Granted, that was the year the Pats were trying to go 19-0 and were about three minutes away from putting the cherry on the most insanely dominant season of football ever. But they didn’t. They lost to a plucky Giants team. Which is kind of what happened this year, when the G-Men beat the Pats yet again for a Super Bowl. Next, the torunament. In 2008, we had to go through UNC en route to the title game. Sure, that was in the Final Four and this year it was the Elite Eight. However, we still went through Roy Williams’ squad. Though the demons were excised in 2008 for Benedict Williams’ desertion, it’s still nice to advance through the Tar Heels.

But here’s the one that I think is biggest: we’re again in a title game against John Calipari. Yes, the last time it was against Memphis, but this is still Coach Cal and this is the same situation. We’re the underdogs in the match up. Supreme underdogs. Kentucky has been littering the hardwood with the severed limbs of their opponents all season (including God’s Team back in November). They’re certainly better now than they were when we played them at MSG. But I think we’re better by miles while they’re better by a few feet. The main thing to keep in mind is that we’re the underdog, though. When we faced off with Memphis, there was nothing but flack coming out of all the talking heads, saying that Kansas wouldn’t be able to hang with the far more destructive Tiger team. No one picked us other than, well…us, the fans. No one other than Bobby Knight actually. The point is that we’re going into almost the exact same scenario that we faced in 2008. And I like being the underdog here.

Does that mean I think we’re going to win? Of course not. I try my best to not take wins for granted and this is a scenario where you have to understand that. But I do think there’s a chance. I think we could pull off the upset and make this our year again. Going into a game against this Wildcats team, there is no other squad I would rather have right now. These guys, spastic and sometimes frustrating as they are, are Kansas basketball. They have each others’ backs, they play hard for 40 minutes (if not smart and totally together, but hey), and I trust that, no matter what happens in any given game, they’ve played as hard as they could and they leave nothing on the floor. They’re it. They are Kansas basketball. We could pull this off.

Tonight, once the final buzzer sounds, regardless of what actually happens, I want everyone out there to know that this is a team that you’ll remember. This is a team that went out of their way to represent everything you want of a Kansas team. They have character. They have grit. They have gutsy, balls out ways of winning games that you just don’t see all that often. So, as the clock is counting down, I want everyone to raise a glass and Rock Chalk one last time for T-Rob and Taylor. For Toupee’s magical coaching job this season. For Kansas basketball, because, win or lose, we are the best.



Final Four Preview: Is a Wildcat Championship Inevitable? by longdistancejayhawk

Imagine my surprise when I found the perfect photo to go along with the tenuous analogy I'm about to drop about Kentucky.

Allow me to preview this in the most rational terms possible: Kentucky is a wrecking ball cover in a heady mixture of spikes, razor wire, and dynamite, controlled by Dr. Robotnik from Sonic the Hedgehog. The way they’ve dismantled their opponents all season and specifically during this tournament has been astounding. So far, it seems like nothing is capable of stopping them. Indiana wanted to get in a shoot out with them? No problem, they went out of their way to turn the score into the closest college ball can get to the NBA All-Star Game. Want to slow it down and try to turn it into a methodical chess match? No problem, they made an exceptional Baylor squad look like a bunch of punks and the final score doesn’t totally reflect the way they ripped the tacky uniforms to shreds. It’s been something to behold. The most impressive feat is that they’ve done this behind a star player who looks like Seasame Street’s Bert stepped out of the Muppetverse and decided to start playing basketball.

The resemblance is uncanny. Perhaps Bert is Anthony Davis' long-lost uncle.

All of this is to say the obvious: Louisville doesn’t stand a chance on Saturday against this squad1. At least, that’s what everyone’s saying since the Wildcat’s are the sexy pick and, well, short of a miracle, there’s not too much hope for the woefully undersized Cardinals. But let’s not forget this is March and miracles are always in play. So, what do the Cardinals need to do in order to win the game?

They need to do whatever they did when they faced Kentucky earlier in the season and just a little bit more. Look, I don’t remember what happened in that game2, but if they can give the Wildcats a seven point game, they can win the game. The Cardinals playing right now are way better than they were when they squared off and gave it their all to get the upset. The biggest problem for Louisville is that what they do well (pesky defense and a quick pace) plays right into Kentucky’s hands. So, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant needs to come up with a controlled pace gameplan that will give his team a fighting chance. Controlling the pace of the game and, on top of that protecting the ball, should throw Kentucky off of their game3. Given that Louisville also likes to play fast, this could throw them off of their own game. Which is the danger of just about any strategy against this year’s Kentucky team.

Look at that reach. Sure, it's like 6" shorter than anyone on UK's starting lineup, but just a finger is all it takes to redirect a shot.

The other no brainer is to attack Anthony Davis. Just keep going at him. Sure, he’s a blocking machine who seems to be able to punch the ball out no matter where its coming from, but just keep at him. The more times you take it to him, the more likely he is to get into foul trouble. While that doesn’t solve the problem of NBA draft picks Lamb, Terrence Jones, or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, it should open up the paint and shots in the post which you can use, in conjunction with slowing the game down, to try and get some decent looks and easy buckets.

On the flip side, Dieng has to have the defensive game of his life4. Assuming that they can limit Davis’ minutes through foul trouble, Dieng shouldn’t have to worry too much about him in the paint5 and will be free to roam around a slightly wider area of the paint. If he can use his length to change some of Kentucky’s shots, that might be enough to keep Kentucky from blasting out to a fifteen point lead going into the half. In addition to Dieng, Louisville’s guards have to come up with a way to keep Kentucky’s NBA ready guards from hitting 25-footers. Pitino is a fan of pressure defense and a foremost practitioner of a chaotic full-court press for 35 of the 40 minutes of a game but I hope to all things holy he abandons this for this game, unless he absolutely has to use it. Kentucky’s been so good at getting the ball up the court, pressure or not, that having two or more guys in the backcourt when UK breaks the press, they’re going to get completely burned. Seriously burned.

If this is what I see on Monday night, I'm going to retire from believing in anything. Right after I clean three-weeks of vomit off my shoes.

I think it should be abundantly clear after all of my “if, then” statements that Louisville has a tall order ahead of them. I don’t think that the Cardinals are going to win this game. I want them to win it, sure, but I’m being practical here. There’s no right pick. If you pick Louisville, you’re picking with the underdog, the story of the plucky upstart that somehow managed to make it this far and ends up toppling Goliath. Picking the Wildcats is essentially giving up on the whole thing (for all the reason laid out here and, well, everywhere) and saying that the Big Dance is all over, save for the crying. I don’t want to think about the unthinkable, that we beat Ohio State, then have to try and figure out a way to stop what seems to be the inevitable Calipari championship. I’d love for him to become one of those guys that never wins a championship, but right now, the door’s open for evil to waltz in. If someone doesn’t slam that door soon, then 2011-12 will be the year that taint and slime won out over everything else6.

So, for all you classless Wildcat fans out there, try not to gloat too much, okay? Also, try not to fight each other in the stands. I saw you at MSG and, regardless of what anyone might try to tell me, that’s really the low water mark for your fanbase.

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I’ve been putting it off as long as possible, mostly because I didn’t want to admit that the rumors could possibly be true. If looks as if, after years of being the best big coach in college, Danny Manning is moving over to the Golden Hurricanes and the land of my youth, Tulsa, OK. I’m copletely happy to see Manning getting a head coaching gig because, hoenstly, he’s a beast and deserves to have the singular glory of running a solid program. Additionally, Tulsa is a great spot to coach and with Memphis leaving Conference USA, they should be able to excel quickly without nearly the level of competition they had previously. For selfish reason, I’m sad to see him go. For even more selfish reasons, I love the idea of him cutting his teeth somewhere else before getting a high profile gig. God forbid something ever happen to Toupee, I would love to see Manning stalking the sidelines for the Crimson and Blue7.

However, as happy as I am for the Manning, the Myth, the Legend, I’d like to take a moment to rail against something that drives me fucking insane: DON’T SNAKE COACHES WHILE THEY’RE STILL COACHING! Good for you, Tulsa. You recognize a superb basketball mind and you know he’s the man you want. Could you not wait five days to pick him up as your HC? I think our team will be fine with it. We’re pros and I think we’re winning for ourselves and not for our coach. God’s Team shouldn’t have that creeping resentment that seems to be a byproduct of the players thinking their coach is checked out. But still…why can’t we just wait until a team is out of the tourney to start trying to scoop coaches? To me, it speaks to the cutthroat nature of athletics that these things happen. Clearly, the Golden Hurricanes’ AD was worried that someone else would get to Manning first8. I just wish that weren’t the case. In an ideal world, this sort of distraction wouldn’t be an issue9.

I wish you well, Danny, and

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FOOTNOTES

1 – Not unless they actually are one of Robotnik’s mecha-creations and somehow hitting a giant button on Doron Lamb’s back turns all of the Wildcats into a bunch of cute woodland creatures. Even then, I’m pretty sure that’d be a red herring and they’d actually be more like the blood orgy cuties Satanists from that episode of South Park. Back

2 – I watched it, but that seems like a lifetime ago at this point. Since the Cardinals didn’t end up with the W that time, I can’t really remember anything specific about it. Unlike the Indiana game, which I can remember with far more clarity even if it was almost as long ago. Back

3 – Not enough to ensure victory, but enough to give the Cardinals a puncher’s chance. It’s going to be tough no matter what they decide to do, but I’m pretty sure running possessions down as long as possible is the best strategy. The fewer seconds that you give the buzzsaw to durn you into sawdust, the better. Back

4 – He also needs to go out of his mind on offense, too. The big problem he’s going to have is that he’s a whispy man so he’s not going to be out-muscling anyone on the offensive side unless Davis’ unibrow is stewing on the bench. See, what I mean about trying to figure out how to beat Kentucky? It reminds me of high school geometry. My teacher gave us an extra credit proof that had one right answer and it was roughly 20 steps to get there. Everything had to be just right or you wouldn’t get the right answer. Beating Kentucky is like that, but it also involves a little spit, chewed gum, and a whole hell of a lot of luck. Back

5 – Not that Davis is an offensive power house. He’s certainly someone to watch out for since his arms are somewhere between 14 and 20 feet long, but he doesn’t torch you for points, really. Take him out of the equation and Dieng is free to guard a little more freely and hopefully get a few monster blocks of his own. Back

6 – Sure, I’ve gone out of my way to point out that college athletics are corrupt and no one’s clean, really. At the same time, there’s something nice about a program winning that isn’t so unabashedly crass commercialism10. Of course, all of this is probably worrying about nothing. I’m sure that his championship will be vacated eventually anyway. Back

7 – Schuyler and I have discussed this a couple of times, where I said that I really wanted Danny Miracle to go to a mid-major to get some head coaching experience before returning to Lawrence to coach the Jayhawks. Schuy pointed out that Manning is a little on the old side (he’s 45) and that, if Bill Self stays at KU until he retires, we’re going to miss a chance at having Manning in his glory years. She’s got a point, but I do like the idea of him as a back up possibility, just in case Toupee’s head explodes reaming on of God’s Team out for a boneheaded turnover. And if he’s the backup policy, I don’t want him to be just a big coach with Kurtis Blow and Doomsday as his wingmen. I want him to have a little HC experience. Back

8 – A valid fear given that Manning’s been in the discussion for coaching vacancies for at least three seasons now. And why shouldn’t he? Think about what he’s done in nine years at Kansas. How many bad ass bigs have we had? The list is full of college’s best interior guys: Kaun (ok, a stretch), Aldrich, the Morri, T-Rob, WITHEY! If that’s not a testament to how good the guy is, I don’t know what else I can say to you. Back

9 – Then again, this is the NCAA we’re talking about. The same place that gives kids about as much time to decide to go pro after the tournament as it takes to order a Big Bacon Classic at Wendy’s now. In case you missed it, college basketball players have to decide three weeks sooner (April 5, I believe) whether they want to go pro or not. Back

10 – Again, this is the pot calling the kettle black. The amount of branded merchandise that Kansas puts out is staggering. So, Kentucky, powerhouse of commercializing their product and maximizing profit, isn’t that much more filthy than God’s Team. But let’s not think about that. Back



Kentucky Dialysis Derby by longdistancejayhawk

All the lead up hype for the devastating-to-the-bourbon-state matchup between Louisville and Kentucky, a lot of emphasis has been put on the enmity between the two schools’ programs. I still think that Kansas-Missouri and UNC-Duke are the better rivalries1 but there seems to be a lot of bad blood between the respective fan bases of these two teams. Shit, a Cardinal fan punched a Wildcat fan who was hooked up to a dialysis machine. I’m not one to speak in hyperbole2 here, but that’s incredibly ballsy. Like beyond ballsy and possibly veering into shameful and absolutely absurd. Yet, I get it. This is what a sports rivalry should bring out.

Personally, I don’t find pro sports rivalries to be nearly as intense as college sports rivalries. There’s much more wrapped up in a college rivalry. Pro athletes are essentially mercenaries3 who bounce from team to team for their chief goal: more money. I’m never going to say that all college players play well exclusively for the love of the game and their school. It’s naive to think that there isn’t something dubious going on at all college programs. However, I do think there’s a level of commitment to the school and the team that bears it’s name. Which extends to the rivals of the schools. Do some of these guys actually like each other? Before the tip and after the final buzzer, maybe, but for those fory minutes of game time, they’re the enemy. And they must be dispatched with extreme prejudice. Just look at the way the Kansas-Missouri matchup at Allen Fieldhouse ended and the way our players reacted. They wanted that win over the bitter rival just as much as we, as fans, did. Pro sports doesn’t ever touch that in my mind4.

And now we’re looking a Final Four matchup between two teams that have that level of enmity that makes college sports so exciting. Yes, you can point to the fact that their rivalry is more like a pro sports team, but I’d like to suggest that it’s more than that. For a lot of these fanbases, the devotion to the team is tied up in the fabric of their lives and following the team is a way to reconnect with their lives during the formative college years5. If you go to a school with a good program, you can’t help but get sucked into the zeitgeist, especially when you get further and further into March. Every experience you have each winter during those four (or more) years are inextricably linked to the fortunes of your team. It’s the kind of thing that imprints itself on your DNA and gives you, for five glorious months a year, the chance to stay connected to and interact with all the development you made during that time. Having such an impact on a person’s life leads to a fierce protection of your school, the players that represent it, and, essentially, the person you’ve become on the other side.

So, yeah, hitting an elderly man on a dialysis machine, even if you yourself are elderly, seems crazy and I would never condone it…but, ultimately, it’s understandable to me. This is your team. They’re just as much a part of your life as your parents, your friends, or hobbies. You are part of the team as much as the team is a part of you. You bleed those colors. You feel on top of the world when they win and crushed when they lose. This is the kind of thing that can’t be manufactured. It’s madness of the most hilariously awesome order. So, watch for something magical to happen in that little game happening before our rematch with Ohio State.

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FOOTNOTES

1 – UNC-Duke, following the close of this season, will take the mantel as the biggest rivalry in college sports. Much like the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry, I feel like a non-conference matchup between Kansas and Missouri wouldn’t carry the same weight that the conference rivalry game does. When you play outside of conference, all the game ends up being is a blip on the resume. Conference game  are where your team makes their bones and matching up with conference standings on the line mean way more than a tune up in December. Trust me. As much as Cardinal and Wildcat fans hate and/or resent each other they’re pre-conference series doesn’t mean much to the teams involved other than pride. Back

2 – SARCASM! Back

3 – Clearly, you could make the case that King Vacator (probably not a word) is essentially hiring mercenaries to fill out his student-first-athlete rosters, but let’s ignore that briefly. I assume that there is some kind of rapport that develops around Calipari’s squads by the end of the season. Additionally, this year’s squad seems to be far more cohesive than squad’s past. The execute with efficiency and a seething hatred for their opponent, regardless of who they are, that wouldn’t really work if these guys didn’t have a real sense of on-court chemistry. Do these guys chill on the weekends? Does it matter if they’re dispatching opponents like they’re JV basketball squads? I think all the proof you need about how good this team is and how well they play together can be seen in the comments by Gary Williams, who thinks that the Wildcats could dispatch the Wizards. Back

4 – The Red Sox-Yankees feud is the closest thing I can think of to the level of enmity that comes from a good rivalry in pro sports. But even that seems to stem more from a philosophical difference between each teams’ respective fan bases estimation of their city as the best in the world more than any single game could ever capture. If baseball changed their schedule to be like a quarter as long as it is now and each games’ importance were increased by 75%, then maybe the rivalry would have the same vitriol in each match up. As it stands, they’re rivals, but it’s so much less contentious and heated than a good college rivalry. Back

5 – This line of thinking is part of why I think that the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry approaches the same level of absolute disgust that is part of a college rivalry. For most fans of either Boston or New York, the love the team is tied up in all their feelings about the cities they represent. My buddy James, lifelong Red Sox fan, can attest to this. He loves Boston, talks about it all the time, and until about four years ago, lived there most of his life. For him, the Red Sox represent the city he loves and all the experiences he had there. Rooting for a team like that brings up so many memories that you can’t separate from the games and vice versa. That’s why I’d say that the rivalry between those teams is the closest thing in sports to the great rivalries in college sports. Back