By Kevin Kietzman
Let’s get the obvious out of the way right from the jump here, the Kansas Jayhawks are on fire.
KU is the number one seed in the entire NCAA tournament. They look like it, they play like it and everyone knows it. In fact, the only concern I have for KU at this point is the possibility that being from the Big 12 has once again made them look a smidge better than they really are. But the performance against UCONN quiets that theory significantly.
The Big 12 has three teams still dancing, all having played to their seed. So there is no back slapping, whoop-whooping over the mighty Big 12. The league has been a disappointment in the tourney again, but the remaining teams can make the league look great. Meanwhile, the ACC has a record 6 teams in the Sweet 16. I called this at the beginning of the Madness and we’ve talked about it for two months on Between the Lines. The ACC is the best league in hoops, and it isn’t close.
But what I really notice about March Madness is one of the strangest things in all of sports. Is there anything more predictable, yet filled with wild Cinderella moments, than the NCAA Tourney?
Think about it. You get your kicks from Stephen F. Austin just boggling your mind with their precision and passion and great stories. Northern Iowa tosses in a half court bomb at the buzzer. And Middle Tennessee... well… Middle Tennessee took out Michigan State in one of the most shocking upsets ever.
That was fun. Now THAT kind of fun is over. This is nearly a scratch field at this point with all 16 teams fitting into two distinct categories.
Category 1: You have played to your seed.
The South and the West are seeds 1-4. All the hand wringing over the committee being dopey and here we have a couple regions that have all four faves remaining. All four number one seeds are alive, too. Three of the four number one seeds are playing 4 seeds. So much for Cinderella.
Category 2: You are a name program playing well now
This is where Syracuse, Gonzaga, Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Indiana fit. They all beat slightly higher seeds (or not if they caught a break) and made the Sweet 16. But there is no real surprise as most of these teams have done this before. Up and down the board, we now have teams that have been there, done that. Those that haven’t like Miami and ISU are high seeds this year that have only met expectations so fare. And for a tournament known for surprises, there are none left in this field. Cinderella got all dolled up and got dumped at the curb well before midnight.
By Kevin Kietzman
K-State’s disappointing performance against Baylor, at Bramlage no less, pretty much puts and end to any talk of this squad rallying and making a run at the NCAA tourney.
It’s amazing what a win over the number one team in the country can do for the perception of a team but in the end, we should have all known better about this year’s KSU team. Sure, there’s a lot to be optimistic about as Bruce Weber goes forward, I mean, who wouldn’t want a team so reliant on Freshman to already have on their resume a win over numero uno. But this season has mostly been a series of losses to good team that K-State has showed promise but no ability to close.
Last night against Baylor was even worse.
The Wildcats never really showed up for this one. Baylor took a double digit lead early and KSU made a few runs within 5 points or so. But K-State was so dreadful shooting the ball from the outside, they didn’t hit a three until :58 seconds remained in the game, you knew Baylor had this one. Kam Stokes, a fine Freshman point guard that is KSU’s best outside threat, is lost with a knee injury. That’s taking an OK three point shooter off a team with very little else and you can see where it would be trouble. The Wildcats scored repeatedly at the rim against number one OU but didn’t have nearly as much success against Baylor’s big men. Growing pains for a young team.
Now, you can argue that Weber should not be in a spot where he has an all new team and K-State should be experienced and competing in this league. I agree with that. But now is not the time for that argument. That argument was better made at the end of last year and in the off season when Weber was scouring the country for new players. It is what it is now. And while the bar seems incredibly low for a team that won the league just three years ago, you have to judge it for what it is.
This team has played hard, they like each other and Weber can coach. They are wildly inconsistent because they rely heavily on three freshmen in a league where most coaches don’t even use their freshmen. Dean Wade looks like he’ll be a fixture at K-State and if Kam Stokes doesn’t have a serious knee problem, he’ll run this team for three more years. Weber has a couple big men sitting out this year, practicing with the team. All eyes are on next year.
It’s not what fans want to hear, it’s never about next year until the last game is played. But you tell me. If… IF… the Cats knock off Kansas again (something Weber’s been ok at) and play in the NIT, isn’t that pretty good for a complete rebuild? That’s a win over your rival, a win over the #1 team in the land and a post season tourney. Cat fans may not think that’s enough, but based on the decisions made at the end of last year, I think that’s pretty strong.
By Kevin Kietzman
While America is awash in Star Wars mania, the Kansas City Chiefs are playing like they’re saving the galaxy. Seven straight wins, a lock down defense that sacks the quarterback and takes the ball away and an offense almost perfectly suited to bad weather and post season play. What more could we ask for? The Chiefs roll into Baltimore this week to take on the Jimmy Clausen and/or Ryan Mallet led Ravens in what is a perfect road matchup for KC. The Ravens turn it over and don’t take it from opponents. The Chiefs are exact opposites. This has to be good.
If the Chiefs win and the Broncos lose at Pittsburgh, Peyton Manning is inactive again, KC is just one game away from winning the division. Amazing after a 1-5 start. Central Bank of the Midwest pre-game with Soren Petro is Sunday morning and Danny and Jack have the Olathe Subaru post game show around 3:00.
But what we will all remember this week for is the premier of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
I’m by no means a junkie and barely remember the plots and story lines of the original trilogy when I was a kid. But I liked them all and passed on the next three because, well, I just didn’t care.
This is different. I’d be a terrible movie critic because I don’t like really slow, artsy types of movies about Europeans or people with odd stories. I like blockbusters. I like big, mainstream, popcorn movies. I trust Disney and director JJ Abrams to know what this franchise is and what it should be. It belongs in the hands of the best and brightest at the top of their game every time one comes out trying to be the world’s biggest phenomenon. I’m pretty sure they’ve done that here. That has me excited to see Star Wars tonight more than I thought. I’m caught up in the hype and can’t wait.
I don’t like all the commercials, especially the soup commercials that are political, borderline offensive and don’t match the audience at all. I don’t need characters on my box of Cheez-its and I’m downright thrilled my kids are grown so I don’t have to take out a second mortgage to buy all the toys.
But this is going to be amazing, giant, fun movie making with a storied franchise getting the Disney treatment. Let’s do this!
Have fun, go Chiefs and May the Force be with you!
By Kevin Kietzman
The Royals have been consistently excellent now for a long enough period that it’s time for Kansas City to stop doubting and sweating this series with the Jays.
Kansas City is up 3-2 in the series and have two home games to close it out. I’m not sure why this has our whole city freaked out that the sky is falling in. I know we all endured decades of bad baseball, never believed this owner would field a winner and watched our beloved team become a national laughing stock. But those days are over.
The Royals are good. Really good. And even more important, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a Royals team like this in my life, they have the ability to flip a switch. This bunch phoned in about six weeks of baseball until the final week. Then the Royals closed the season with 5 wins, beat the Astros and grabbed a 2-0 series lead on the favored Blue Jays. It’s easy to see this team has another gear when it needs it.
The Royals have a lineup with no hole in it, starting pitching that can be just fine for 5 innings, great defense and game awareness and a lock down bullpen. The only thing that can beat the Royals is dominant starting pitching and so far there’s only been a couple games the Royals have had to deal with that. Maybe if they play the Mets in the World Series it becomes a problem, but not to close out this Toronto series. The Blue Jays don’t win close, low scoring games. The Royals do. It’s a huge difference.
Look, I know that anything can happen. It’s why we love sports. Of course the Royals could lose this series. But take your emotion and heart out of the equation and you will see a confident, complete team playing great baseball at home with a 3-2 series lead. Don’t be worried about this right now. Save the stress for Saturday but my guess is Saturday’s stress in this city will be reserved for thinking about the Mets starting pitching.
I asked Andy Reid a pretty simple question this week. “When it’s going good, coaches love to stay in perfect routine. When it’s going bad, do you try to change things or freshen things up a little?” Andy wouldn’t bite, he rarely does. His response was about what time meetings begin and when practice starts and ends. I probably didn’t ask the question properly but that wasn’t what I was going for. I’m curious if you get on your players more, kill them with kindness or threaten jobs. Alex Smith told me there have been several “meetings” between players by themselves and with the staff but added it can only do so much. Smith says the talking part of this season is over and every player on the team knows it. It’s time to start playing better and that can only be fixed by the players. Andy did say they are looking at a lot of different things with game plans and strategy but wouldn’t elaborate.
As I watch several players shoot baskets and yuck it up in the locker room this week, I couldn’t help but think a little discipline and maybe a benching or two would be better than installing a play toy for the kids.
By Kevin Kietzman
I’m taking my mom to the Royals game tonight for her birthday and I’m sure there is nothing I could possibly give her that she would love more. Not diamonds. Not a trip to the beach. Not even a soundbar to help hear the games better from the tinny sounding little baby speakers in the HD TB I bought her a few years ago that she initially refused to accept. You see, she didn’t need HD tv to enjoy the Royals games. I’m pretty sure that’s when they were losing a lot and she still did crossword puzzles and talked on the phone during the games.
Now she’s got a laptop she uses during games to look up stats and stuff (she didn’t want that either) and only takes calls from my oldest sister and they are only allowed to talk about the game. Two years ago, my sister only knew the Royals as something mom and her brothers liked and she didn’t understand. It was only good for her because it was easy gift giving at Christmas. Now… well… now sister Connie is all in. She has a rich history of being “all in” on good looking 20-something guys. First it was Elvis (before I was born), then the Beatles (the year I was born) and most recently one of those talent show winners named Michael Grimm. Connie’s a “Grimmlin”. Oh my.
Anyway, she’s found athletes now and instead of just having one CD to listen to and going to one concert a year, she has Eric Hosmer 175 times year. It’s really crazy how she’s fallen head over heels for these guys like my mom. They see sports teams a lot differently than me and my brother but that’s another column for another day. To be inclusive, my other sister in Florida likes the Royals too, from a distance. She actually (and illegally) downloaded a bunch of photos of all the players and put them into a pattern and made them into a blanket for mom. Mom cranks the AC, gets under the blanket and watches the games with a stuffed folding pillow of Slugger I got her. You can’t make this up.
Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked. Connie is all in with mom and she’s going tonight, too. Just like the World Series last year when I shot video of them celebrating a Royals score just as Omar Infante was going deep. Yes, Infante. We posted it last year and many of you loved it and noticed they both dressed exactly the same for the game. I expect no less tonight, I mean, Johnny Cueto’s starting. They are not afraid to make their own shirts or signs.
So what’s the big deal about tonight? Well, mom can’t drive at night anymore and Connie doesn’t like to. Connie and her husband live on a farm nearly an hour from mom’s house so their plan was to watch the afternoon game tomorrow at mom’s house as they ditched the idea of going to the game because it could have been a little too hot and a little too sunny for mom. NOW IT”S A SLEEPOVER! I’m taking them tonight with no sun, no heat and no driving for them and then it’s a slumber party. They’ll probably go to Johnny’s bbq for lunch tomorrow, check out one of a dozen new things being built in Mission and then watch the game together. You see the Royals aren’t just winning games, they are changing the way we live. How we feel. Who we are.
It’s only entertainment and I’ve never been one to look up to athletes or celebrities. I had a dad and have a mom that have showed me the way every moment of my life, so it’s not about worship. It’s about togetherness. A bond. Common ground the way only sports can bring us all together. And that’s why I have been blessed and have loved every minute of 31 years of covering this team. Even through the losing, I remembered the times going to games with dad. And now I even fondly remember watching the Red Sox beat the Royals 11-3 only to hear mom say they’d win tomorrow. “And mark my words, “ she would say. “We’re going to be great next year, just you wait.” Now we’re all living in mom’s “next year” and life is good.
By Kevin Kietzman
I don’t know exactly how “not for profit” organizations work but it’s time for Kathy Nelson to get a big, fat raise.
Nelson had gigantic shoes to fill when she replaced Kevin Gray as President and CEO of the Kansas City Sports Commission and Foundation and she officially shed the tag of successor this week. Kansas City is host to the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship for four more years, a clean sweep over several other cities.
To put this accomplishment in perspective consider the hand Nelson was dealt. Sure, she will tell you there are dozens of other people that were instrumental in putting this bid together, but it doesn’t tell the full story of what she has done. First, the Big 12 gets in a huge fight and Missouri bolts for the SEC. Missouri. You know, where Sprint Center was built.
Then the Big 12 reforms at 10 schools and starts to question everything it has always done. Men’s tournament in KC? Ok, well, maybe that’s not the best place. The conference announces it wants to open the tourney up for competitive bids from places like Dallas, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Des Moines and Tulsa. Those cities get excited and work hard and put together bids and on a rainy day in late May, they dial into a conference call and get the news.
The Big 12 is staying in Kansas City!
The conference office is headquartered in Dallas and the city, along with a company co-owned by Mark Cuban submits a bid. Sorry, Mark, this tank isn’t big enough for any tiny Sharks like you. You’ve been rejected. Amazing work by everyone in Kansas City.
Now, we can’t ignore the impact of AEG the owner and operator of Sprint Center. Without an NBA or NHL team, Sprint Center probably needs this event more than anyone and their leverage and impact in arena entertainment is far reaching. They’re big time players. But Kathy Nelson literally skipped lunch on Thursday, afraid she would have an upset stomach all afternoon waiting for the announcement. In hindsight, she should have had a giant KC strip steak and taken the afternoon off for a job well done.