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

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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.

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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.

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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



Know Your Enemy: Belmont Blandies by longdistancejayhawk
Take a look at that bruin. Is it just me or is that thing's eyes about 500 feet apart?

Take a look at that bruin. Is it just me or is that thing’s eyes about 500 feet apart?

I hope you all remember Belmont. They’re the Bruins and they’re absolutely atrocious at basketball. I mean, we blasted them for 30 during the 2009-10 season. Sadly, that was before I took to the enterwaves to treat you all to my hateful, crazed ramblings on God’s Team. You can rest assured that there would have been much crowing after a signature win like that. Kidding. There’s nothing signature about blasting another team by that many points that has no business being on the court with you. Especially a team that changed their name from Rebels to Bruins in 19951. I’m not sure the history behind their decision to change the name, but I’m now heartened by the idea of possibly starting a campaign to pressure Missouri into abandoning the Tigers name2. But let’s not get distracted by thoughts of the filthy slavers. They’re no longer battling in our theater. This is wartime and we need to focus on this skirmish.

Official Name: The University of Belmont
Nickname:
The Bruins
Derisive Nickname: 
Blandies3

Signature Win: Blandies are 7-2 which seems like they must be good. But looking at their history so far during the War of 2012-13, I’m completely unimpressed. I went through the list and decided to normalize a bit. First, I booted the two victories over Lipscomb4 from consideration, as well as the two teams without logos or links to clubhouses. That left five games to choose from. Out of the remaining shit in their bucket, they lost one to VCU5 and another to Northeastern, not to be confused with Northwestern. The leaves just three games to choose from. While I’m familiar with ORU6, I don’t know that they’re actually any good. So, by process of elimination, the signature win is none other than Stanford.

Seriously. They have no one on their schedule. Please notice: two teams with no logo (or links on espn.com) and two games against Lipscomb.

Seriously. They have no one on their schedule. Please notice: two teams with no logo (or links on espn.com) and two games against Lipscomb.

If only because I recognize their name. Not because of the ridiculous run of Andrew Luck and Jim Harbaugh. I mean, I do remember all of that fanfare, but that’s not why Stanford is the obvious choice based on name recognition. I don’t think Stanford’s been good at basketball since the Lopez twins repped the Cardinal7. Beating the singularly nicknamed Cardinal is a pretty big feather in the cap of any team. Stanford is a team that you think should be good but typically isn’t. I’m guessing they’ll finish somewhere in the middle fo the Pac-12 this season. But a win over a mediocre Pac-12 team is worth something, come tournament time.

Shit, who am I kidding. The Blandies are a long shot to make the tournament. That win…it won’t matter for anything other than memories and stories to tell the grandkids when they’re playing space basketball.

Key Players: Interestingly, Belmont has a pretty tall center in Chad Lang. Dude’s 6’11”, 275lbs. which means he’d definitely be an asset in the paint for the Blandies. But according to the box scores I’ve been looking at, dude doesn’t get a ton of burn. Now is probably not the time to throw him into the crucible. Can you imagine Belmont’s coaching staff thinking it would be a good idea to put Lang out there, either as a starter or first off the bench? Against Master of Puppets, K-Yungin’ or Traylor and Ellis off the bench? Lang’s confidence would explode within six seconds of hitting the court as he got teabagged by Young en route to a dunk off of a tipped board from WITHEY! The kid would probably end up in the locker room after the game, curled in the fetal position, sucking his thumb and muttering the lyrics to “Master of Puppets” for no reason he can fathom8.

Watch this kid blaze like 33 points off of three pointers tonight.

Watch this kid blaze like 33 points off of three pointers tonight.

Without a big with considerable size to put on the floor opposite our quad-headed monster, I’m feeling that the Blandies are going to go a little small against us and that will put the onus of performance on their lead scorer Ian Clark9. Right now, the kid’s on fire, posting 18-plus points poer game and topping that with a solid 2.3 APG. Here’s the thing that worries me more than anything else with this kid: he’s blazing the net from beyond the arc for 55.9%. For those of you who aren’t great at rounding, that’s basically 56%. Why the fuck do we schedule all these undersized teams that have one dude who will torch us from beyond the arc all night? Watch this kid, since there’s no way they try to go inside consistently against us tonight.

Keys to Victory: I’ve said it before, I’ll paraphrase it again: shut Clark the fuck down. With him hitting over fifty-fifty on threes, he’s a serious threat to our chances of victory. The Prophet is a decent defender, but we need to keep Swashbuckler on Clark all night. Don’t let him slip away, don’t let him get open on screens. Don’t ever let him take an uncontested three pointer. Stay on him like tick. Don’t let go until you’ve given him Lyme disease. Mark my words, if that kid, like every. Other. Fucking. Hot. Three. Shooter. We’ve. Faced. This. Season. Gets open early and often, it’s going to be a long night for us. One that could keep us nervy right down to the wire.

Completely Mathematically Accurate Projection (Backed Up By Science)10Belmont 68, Kansas 82

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FOOTNOTES

1 – Apparently, being from Tennessee and calling yourselves the Rebels was a little too confederate for the University of Belmont. What I don’t understand is, if you’re given a mulligan, why you would choose something like Bruins as the new team name. Oh, yeah, that’s original guys. Wait, what? You’re trying to channel UCLA? Or the Boston hockey team? If you’re going to rebrand like 100 years into existence, you might as well do something interesting with it. Back

2 – Which is funny that Osceola asked us to change our name. Apparently, those shit sippers don’t understand the irony of asking us to change our name for reasons that could easily be reversed to them. Also, who knew that, now that the Border War is a thing of the past, poor Jayhawks living in Misery won’t get the chance to show their pride via tacky, over-priced vanity license plates (for a little piece on the lead up to the vote, check this out…it’ll show new lows in the worlds of politics, Missouri, and irrational sports hatred). Seriously, Missouri. Don’t you dumb-dumbs have anything better to do with your time. Get over it. We don’t want to play you because, well, it would just be for money since stomping you in basketball is really only fun when it actually counts for something (read: conference victory). Long story, short: fuck Missouri. Back

3 – Given the reason that theyu changed their old team name, I thought about derisively calling them the Blandies, but I thought better of it. Besides, I think I mentioned it somewhere, but they’re the fucking Bruins. After wildcat, I’m pretty sure that’s the most overused nickname in the world of sport. There’ve got to be like 500 bruins out there. So, in honor of their frustratingly boring naming choice, I dub these punks the Belmont Blandies. God, I need to spend more time coming up with derisive nicknames. Fingers crossed it comes more naturally during conference play. Back

4 – I get the R. Kelly/Snoop Dogg-style double-up when you’re in league play. It just happens, especially when there are only ten teams in the league. But the Blandies and whatever the fuck Lipscomb is are in the Ohio Valley together. Maybe they’re in the same state? I don’t know, but if you’re not in the same conference and you blow the other team apart two times in less than ten games, I’m not that impressed. Call me when you double-up and beat a Louisville or something. Back

5 – Who I’m assuming are still good at basketball, and who I absolutely still hate. If I saw Shaka Smart on Fifth Ave during rush hour, I’d probably shove him into traffic. Unless that were to actually happen, in which case, I never wrote that. Back

6 – Did you know they had a coach named Ken Trickey back in the 1970s? And that the team did well like ten years after it was founded, under the leadership of Mr. Trickey? If your name is Andrew, then yeah, you probably knew that. Mostly because you grew up in Tulsa, too, and ended up going to Ken Trickey’s basketball camp. In case you didn’t know, Trickey died. The funny thing about Trickey was that, at his basketball camp, there were always sullen teenagers running the show. Trickey would occasionally stroll out and tell you to do something. Given that his basketball strategy mind stopped learning anything new back in about 1983, as soon as he’d walk off, the sullen teenager would just shake his head and show you how it should be done. I’d say Ken Trickey did more to shape my understanding of basketball than anyone else, if only because he was apparently really good at picking out sullen teenagers who knew a shit ton about how basketball was played in the 1990s. Back

7 – During which time we played them. My semi-lifelong hatred of the Lopez twins developed out of that game. Everyone was all over their jock and I remember thinking they looked like brontosaurus/caveman half breeds on the court. Lumbering up and down like they’d just learned to walk. Naturally, I’m torn now between my rooting interest in the Brooklyn Nets and my hatred of Mr. Lopez11. Back

8 – I know you’ve never read the ol’ blog, homeskillet, but it’s called a motherfucking curse. Back

9 – Not to be confused with Ian Clark the British footballer, director, geologist, historian, civil servant, or speedway rider and any of the homonymous Ian Clarkes (they of the computer scientist, flautist, drummer, physician, rugbyist, or British bibliographer). Basically, Ian Clark of the Blandies should probably be British. Back

10 – But don’t take our word for it, find a second opinion. Back

11 – Cats out of the bag if I hadn’t mentioned it already. I’m 100% on the Nets bandwagon. Mainly because, for the first time ever, I have a professional team living not just in the city I live in, but in the borough and, more specifically, down the street. Though, the Brooooooooooooklyn cheer is pretty obnoxious. 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



Oriakhi Leaves the Huskies by longdistancejayhawk

UConn’s Alex Oriakhi has decided that, in the face of the Huskies postseason ban for the 2012-13 season and their pending appeal, to transfer and UConn’s granted him his release. For a guy like Oriakhi, who could be an NBA level talent, this makes sense. According to Sporting News, he’s considering UNC, Missouri, and Kentucky. Duke is in the mix, but according to the article, there isn’t a mutual interest in Duke. Probably because Oriakhi doesn’t want to move to Durham, where he’d probably have to actually go to class. From a purely basketball standpoint, UNC and Missouri seem to be really solid fits for the big man. Last tournament, Oriakhi was instrumental in getting the Huskies a surprise National Championship. With the advent of Andre Drummond, however, Oriakhi’s playing time has decreased significantly.

So, going to UNC or Missouri makes a ton of sense to me. With the departure of Tyler Zeller to graduation, Oriakhi could find playing time, as a proven veteran, almost immediately since the Tar Heels will be looking to shore up that absence. Additionally, if Henson stays at Carolina, that tandem would be crushing for all the other teams in the ACC. A similar argument could be made for going to Columbia. The Tigers’ biggest problem this season was size. Running a four guard set, they were faster and more lethal than most of their opponents. However, they had little inside size, leaving the vulnerable to just about any team who had size inside and guarded their guards well enough to keep them from scoring a ton. Oriakhi would, as with UNC, find playing time immediately and be able to shore up the size issue for the Tigers. Additionally, that would give them a quick edge in their first season in SEC.

The flip side is Kentucky. If the reports I’ve read are true, that Oriakhi didn’t appreciate having his playing time diminish behind Drummond1, going to Kentucky seems like a bad idea. Coach Calipari, slime ball that he is, has probably already managed to plug the holes left by the definitely departing Anthony Davis. Oriakhi could step into that role, but he’s expendable for any Freshman big that Cal picks up and then Oriakhi will be stuck playing behind another Freshman phenom instead of managing to get his profile up for the NBA Draft.

It’s so rare in college basketball for something like this to happen. In pro sports, you have the free agent bonanza and you also have the ability to grab guys as the season progresses. Obviously, every season, some kids transfer (KU’s Royce Woolridge, for instance), but I don’t remember a transfer of a well-known player happening recently.

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FOOTNOTES

1 – I, for one, think that Drummond is just a part of it. Obviously, without playing time, it’s hard to get NBA scouts to notice you. On top of that, being on a Huskies team that will most likely be unable to play in the postseason, that’s just another knock on getting your name out there for NBA scouts at the most hyped and crucial time of the basketball season. Back



What the Hell Happened Yesterday? by longdistancejayhawk

Can someone please tell me what the fuck happened yesterday? I mean, we had that near scare of Syracuse on Thursday and I thought “Oh, yeah, that’s crazy…UNC Asheville really gave them a run for their money, but you know…order’s been restored.” Then, I watched Missouri implode against the Norfolk State Spartans. I mean, I seriously didn’t expect them too have that much trouble in the first round. Then…they…oh god, they fucking lost. Prior to yesterday, there had been a scant four 15-over-2 upsets. Just four. So, after allowing myself to be late heading to Alex’s place so we could go to a housewarming party at Hope’s1 out in Queens, I explained to Alex that her bracket isn’t completely fucked because of a Missouri loss. I also explained that “Well, there were only four of those upsets prior to Missouri going down, so that means that odds are pretty good it isn’t going to happen again this round.” Naturally, I was saying this in regards to the Kansas game later that night. Not at all thinking about the fact that Duke, which had yet to play, could make history as being the second number two seed to fall. I was really just trying to convince myself that we were safe, that we were going to the next round when I pointed out the statistical unlikeliness of a second number two seed falling in the first round. Then, Duke lost to Lehigh.

I can’t say for certain, but I think this is the craziest thing that’s ever happened in any tournament I can remember. Is this the craziest tournament? So far, no. Too many teams that should win won. But the two number two seeds dropping in the span of three hours? That’s probably one of the craziest things that I’ve ever seen. Which is why March rules. So much can happen when you have the bloodbath that is the first weekend. Think about it. Thirty-two games in 48-hours, then another 16 in the subsequent 48-hours. There’s no way to predict anything that’s going to happen. Unless you’re my mom, in which case, she out KU’d all of us and picked Lehigh for the big upset. Jesus. I never thought I’d feel less adequate as a KU fan than I feel right now.

The Good: Well, we won…but Missouri lost in the first round. I can’t stress how happy this makes me. They could have made a run in the tournament this year. They could have, but I didn’t think they’d get beyond the Elite Eight. I mean, they couldn’t. That would be a fucking nightmare for all those who have sought to limit the exposure of the world to the horror that is Missouri. So, imagine my surprise that the Tigers couldn’t even make it out of the first round. I mean, really. I had them going to the Sweet Sixteen, then losing to Marquette. While, on the ESPN bracket pool system, I lost 30 points off their loss yesterday. But I’m totally okay with that. Because seeing them exit the Big XII X by getting a first round loss was totally worth it. Now, if New Mexico loses at any point before the Final Four, I’m going to be pissed.

Also, T-Rob had a double-double in his first ever Big Dance start. Tyshawn and the Prophet also contributed with big scoring nights. Oh, and before I forget, Tharpapalooza got to play appreciable minutes in a tournament game that we basically carried from the 12th minute onward.

The Bad: Tyshawn missed most of the game with cramps. I’ve grown to appreciate Tyshawn, so it’s kind of a pain in the ass to worry about how the team’s going to run without him. I know what he is, as a basketball quantity. I don’t know what he’s going to give me, night to night, but I know what he’s capable of, good and bad. Additionally, he’s the guy who runs the team. When he’s out, I worry that so much of what we do is going to fall apart. I mean, with Tharpe in there for thirteen minutes, I was worried that Detroit would have a run in them and that we’d really need for Johnson to step up. Luckily that didn’t happen and we won. But still.

Also, it’s hard to get up for the last game of the night after watching snippets of roughly 31 different basketball games in the preceding 36 or so hours.

JCTD Award: I’m giving this one to Tharpapalooza since thirteen minutes in a tourney game is pretty fucking good, even if he went 0-3.

Looking Ahead: Oh, christ, the Purdue Boilermakers. One thing I’m glad of: Jay Bilas won’t get the smug satisfaction of us getting knocked off by St. Mary’s (something he predicted going into the tournament). That said, Purdue scares me, mostly because we always have trouble with slow teams in years when we’re the best team in the country. What happens when we face off with one on a “down year”? I don’t know, but I guess we’ll find out tomorrow at 8:40pm.

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 UPSETS ARE LIKE SERVIN’ COLDCUTS

Let’s be honest here: I’m awful at picking upsets. I picked one that I thought was a sure thing, which ended up being kind of close, but not that close. Meanwhile, I should have picked Missouri in the first round. Or Duke. I mean, the two teams that I hate more than most and I couldn’t bring myself to pick either of them as upsets. Because that’s just poor strategy, honestly. You shouldn’t pick a two-seed upset in the first round because they almost always make it to the second round. So, with the first round out of the way, it’s time to pick the upset for the second round. I have to say, I’m liking NC State over Georgetown. I know that’s probably the sexy pick here, but I think it’s a solid one. That NC State team is peaking at the right time while the Hoyas are just resting on the laurels of being in the Big East and the inevitable three-seed that comes with “not sucking hardest of 17 teams”. So watch for the far more hungry Wolfpack to storm out of the gate, leave JT3’s team in the dust and make a Cinderella appearance at the Sweet Sixteen.

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FOOTNOTES

1 -I didn’t really stress this to Alex, but the reason I was late to head up to Hope’s is because I was watching the end of the Missouri game. I mean, how do you pull yourself away from something like that. I know this upset has happened in the past, but it was definitely worth seeing since they’re so rare. If only I’d known… Back



Tipping the Madness by longdistancejayhawk

This is the face of the world's second awesomest mascot. Ladies, don't you want to hang this up at your desk? He's doing his best sexy pose!

Just a reminder, chummies and chummettes, the Long Distance Jayhawk bracket pool is up and running on ESPN. It’s open to anyone who wants fame and glory (but no money) and a mention on the blog. Hell, I might even let you write an acceptance speech, if you’re so included. So, join up. Square off against the best, the brightest, and some people who are probably just picking teams arbitrarily (like my mom, who famously picked against Duke in the first round last year, then went on to get second place or so…gotta love a Tar Heel who can’t pick Duke even when they’re quite good). If you’ve already got an ESPN bracket that you’re satisfied with, you can save some effort and recycle that bracket.

Looks like the Cougars are going just fine without Jimmer's hot hand. Of course, everyone still makes fun of them for being named after the hit Courtney Cox vehicle, Cougar Town.

Last night, BYU managed to come back from a 25 point deficit to take one of the play-in games and, most impressively, they did it without Jimmer “I Can’t Miss Because I Don’t Drink Caffeine” Fredette. If that wasn’t enough, one of my favorite “teams that will never make it to the Final Four…or probably the Sweet Sixteen for that matter”, Western Kentucky managed to edge Mississippi Valley State to get the chance to get blasted by Kentucky. I kind of like the idea of the Hilltoppers having to face an in-state powerhouse1, mostly because the game is going to be in prime time, so casual sports fans will be introduced to the aboslutely insane glory that is the Hilltoppers mascot.

This is one of the unsung parts of March Madness. Have you ever seen the Hilltopper costume? I don’t know what a Hilltopper is, per se, but that thing is truly something to behold. I was unfamiliar with WKU and their mascot until like three years ago when, also unemployed, I watched a ton of the tournament. I was watching them best Illinois before getting punted in the next round to Gonzaga when I noticed some gigantic red Muppet blob sitting with the cheerleaders. I couldn’t figure out what it was supposed to be. Actually, I still have no idea what the blob is supposed to be. Anyway, I kept watching this thing until, after a pivotal bucket, the creature jumped up. I can’t totally capture what I saw in words…but…well, the top of it’s head flipped up and came back down. It was like a red, felt covered Pac-Man costume. Or a real life representation of Canadians in South Park. I don’t remember who I was watching basketball with that day, but we stared at the thing, trying to figure out just what the fuck it was supposed to be. Since that day, I’ve watched every grainy, Nokia camera phone video I can find on YouTube of it, trying to learn it’s ways, it’s natural motions, the things that make the Hilltopper tick. But most importantly, what’s going on with it’s head. I’ve come to the conclusion that the people who designed the Hilltopper costume have a sense of humor and are taking pride in mountaintop removal mining. Ever basket that the Hilltopper score is so exciting to this thing that the top of his head literally blows off, just like blowing off the top of a mountain.

Or something like that.

The point of the story is, when you’re at your favorite watering hole watching the Kansas game, check out some of the other TVs for some of the ludicrous mascots that will be hanging out on the sidelines. By next weekend, most of them will be gone. Savor this weekend’s mascot heavy festivities. 

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Let’s get down to business, then. Tomorrow is the official start of the tournament2 and I’ve filled out my bracket. I’m sure I’m going to tweak it some before the first game tips tomorrow morning, but that’s usually what happens. Part of me thinks that I shouldn’t mess with it and let the picks I made ride. See, I’ve been picking brackets most of my life and I don’t think I fare much better as an adult than I did as a kid3. I have this spreadsheet that I made, that I put various stats into, which I then normalize based on nothing other than an arbitrary system I created, and it spits out a number that’s anywhere from 48 (the lowest number it ever gave me) to 92 (the highest it ever gave me). I then use this rating system to pick teams. And it works about as well as just picking based on what I know about the teams, their seeding, that sort of thing. Except in the case of Missouri4.

I couldn't do it. Despite the numbers telling me this is Missouri's year, I couldn't do it. I couldn't move them past the Sweet Sixteen. It would be too much to bear in their exit season, especially if we don't go as far or further than them.

In the West Regional, Missouri scored 65.27 on my scale, the best in what is a woefully mediocre quadrant of the bracket. Almost every team ended up in the low- to mid-50s, wtith Missouri alone breaking the 60 mark. Again, that would have, based on the numbers system I created5, pushed Mizzou to the Final Four where they would have been blasted by Kentucky, a strong 65-plus team in my system. I’m pretty sure that this system is doomed to failure anyway, since there’s only one team that went above 70, and that’s North Carolina. I’m using the numbers here to help me choose teams, but Carolina, who I’ve watched probably ten times this season, is the highest in this field at 72.34, a good five points higher than Kentucky. The issue I’m having with this is that the Tar Heels don’t play defense. In fact, outside of Henson and about half of Tyler Zeller, no one on UNC seems to even understand the concept of defense this season. They play fifteen feet off their men which basically means that any team with just one three-point ace can burn them for 18 points. If the Tar Heels don’t force turnovers and rebound the ball, they can’t keep up with the pace. That’s part of the reason they were completely dominated by Florida State. Not because the Seminoles are the best team in the country, but because they had two guys who hit three-pointers all day.

My point is that, in my system, my Final Four should be Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina, and Missouri. But that’s not what I have in my bracket. Maybe I should have said spoiler alert there. Anyway, I didn’t pick the teams that, based on my spreadsheet, should have just gone straight to the Final Four, without any question. Some of those teams made it, some didn’t. Check out the bracket pool tomorrow to find out who I ended up going with.

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Also, rather than preview the entire field, since it’s a crapshoot anyway, I’m going to bring you a new, round-by-round feature, that I’m calling “Upsets Are Like Servin’ Cold Cuts”6.

UPSETS ARE LIKE SERVIN’ COLD CUTS

I’ve claimed to be Nostradamus before to varying degrees of success. I’ve done decently with NFL picking and, well, that’s about all I’ve done, prediction wise. So, I’d like to give you my upset special for the first round of the tournament. Yes, the first four days will play out a little like The Hunger Games, with some giants crushing their opponents and others falling to the little David’s that could7. There are some that are tailor made, and easy to pick out. In general, I don’t consider an upset ever happening in the 8-9 or 7-10 matchups. The way the tournament is structured, these teams are theoretically too close to each other for it to really be an upset, in my opinion. There are always intriguing 6-11 match ups and, as Patrick mentioned last Saturday, there’s the always sexy 5-12 upset that is marginalized by the First Four. However, I’m going to be bold and do one better than either of those seed showdowns and bring you this one: Davidson over Louisville.

I really wanted to pick New Mexico State over Indiana8, but knowing something of Davidson after we played against them, I liked the look of that as an upset. I’ve seen a few Cardinals games this season, and they did just win the Big East Championship…but there’s something not quite right there. I don’t think they’re riding a hot streak into the tournament, more of a war of attrition streak where they somehow lucked into winning games because the better teams they should have faced managed to get knocked off. Another problem: they play from behind constantly. They’re a lot like Baylor, in that they don’t seem to concerned with closing opponents out early. Sure, they win by ten-plus often, but they don’t start the game that way. Maybe this is anecdotal, but I think they’re overvalued at a five seed.

Meanwhile, I think that Davidson got lucky in the draw this year. I feel like the team is better than their seed and that they got the back-end of bias against mid-majors. Sure, they didn’t play super quality competition, but the players that they do have are better than the league they play in. They beat us, which isn’t saying much since that was during the heyday of “chuck the ball into the bleachers”. But they just seem like a solid team that doesn’t make a ton of mistakes. Sure, they’ve lost a few games, but they’re going to be fired up to play Louisville. I’m expecting a close one, but like last year, I think Scenes from an Italian Restaurant and his Cardinals are going to be flying back to Louisville early.

Don't be surprised if this scene is the order of business later this afternoon. You heard it here first, folks.

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FOOTNOTES

1 – I hesitate to say rival, since rivalries should involve the teams actually playing each other. Well, that and the fact that the Wildcats are essentially a stacked team of NBA-ready mercenaries. The Hilltoppers don’t stand a chance and I figure if they lose by anything less than 20, that should be considered a success. Seriously. Here’s one thing to keep in mind about Calipari’s teams: they don’t seem too concerned in the first round, so you can sneak a less embarassing loss by them if you play your cards right. That’s a fact. Look at their matchup with Princeton last tourney. Princeton, using their superior knowledge of angles and the quantum physics directly related to clock management, were able to lose by just two points. Two points to a team that boasted one draft bound freshman (Brandon Knight), two upperclassmen draft players (Deandre Liggins and Josh Harrelson)m  and a couple other guys that could have gone pro (Terrence Jones and possibly Deron Lamb), but chose to come back for esoteric reasons like “Wildcats…basketball…something”. Anyway, what I’m getting at is that the Hilltoppers have a chance to not get completely laughed out of the building. It’s possible. Back

2 – I’m well aware that the NCAA has been trying to get people to give a shit about the First Four by calling it the First Four and then calling the Round of 32 the “Second Round.” Poor, delusional NCAA. No one will ever mistake the play-in games as the first round, mostly because these are teams that, if you had your way, wouldn’t sniff the jock straps of a really tournament team, let alone get to play in one of the real arenas you line up for the real first round. Call the play-in games the First Four all you want. The first round starts at noon on Thursday. Back

3 – For instance, I blindly picked UNC to win every year until I went to Kansas. In the ten years since, I have picked Kansas to win it quite often, especially if we have even a remote possibility of winning it all. I mean, even the most remote possibility. Like the two times we lost in the first round. One of those years, I thought we’d win it all and the other, I put us in the Elite Eight. Which just goes to show that watching a ton of this shit will not make you any better or worse at picking brackets. So, mom, Alex, and anyone else who just picked teams based on geography (my mom picks any team in North Carolina in the first round, even if they’re a 15 seed…unless the team is Duke), you’ll probably do just as well as me. Back

4 – It’s about to be hilarious that I lambasted my mom twice in this piece for picking against Duke when 1.) she told me that she did pick them to win at least their first game, and 2.) Missouri had an insanely high score in my system, one that would have carried them to the Final Four…had my distaste for any modicum of success as they depart the Big XII X not intervened and made me choose Marquette to stop them from making the Elite Eight. So much for my picking system. Back

5 – I don’t think I can stress this enough: there is absolutely no basis for this numbering system. I was an English major and almost a History minor, so I took the bare minimum of math classes. I just decided to take certain stats that I think are important, give a percentage of a point value to them (example: I get each teams steals per game and cut it in half because I’m assuming that every steal is worth a half of a point towards the final score; on the flip side, turnovers take away half a point per game), and add the positive stats to the negative stats to come up with a ridiculous aggregate number that sort of translates to what I think a team will average, score wise, in the tournament. Did I mention that all the stat research takes me roughly three hours and translates to practically no increase in success in picking the bracket? What do you do? Throw darts at balloons? Back

6 – Were you aware that, in addition to being an irrational Kansas fan, I’m also an irrational Sopranos fan? So, if you’re confused by what that feature title means, perhaps you should check out the greatest show ever made…other than, supposedly, The Wire, but I wouldn’t know anything about that since I stopped watching scripted TV on June 10, 2007. Back

7 – Mixed allusion, booyah! Back

8 – Here’s the story: Generally, I don’t bother getting the aggregate score for the 13-16 seeds. I play the odds that the 1-4 seeds will win their first games and that the one seed will make it to the Sweet Sixteen. Some kid who went perfect in back-to-back tournaments told me this on ESPN one time. I have no idea if he was right, but I’ve been doing it anyway. For some reason, though, I decided to punch in the numbers for Aggies of New Mexico State. And they had a massive number. Like ten points higher than Indiana. Since I already liked Davidson over Louisville, I didn’t know what to do. It seemed unlikely that two  13-over-4 upsets would happen in one tournament. So, after some serious consideration, I decided to stick with my gut feeling of Davidson over Louisville. So, just know that if the Aggies make a miracle run to the Sweet Sixteen (where they would lose to Kentucky, according to my numbers), I’m going to be kicking myself. Back