Archive for Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Heard on the Hill: Duke professor explains why KU is so good at basketball; company that began at KU has bright future, co-founder says; engineering students perform well at design competition

March 23, 2011


Your daily dose of news, notes and links from around Kansas University.

• Here’s an interesting article from the U.S. News and World Report that seeks to scientifically explain why KU is so darned good at basketball all the time.

An engineering professor from — where else? — Duke University says we can use something called “constructal law” to explain it.

Teams like KU and Duke earn the top seeds year in and year out, he said, essentially because stuff in complex systems tends to follow the path of least resistance.

In the case of basketball, it’s all about the top recruits finding their way to the NBA as smoothly as possible.

“The significance of constructal law, Bejan noted, isn't the observation that success breeds success in these top basketball schools and that these channels are invariable,” the U.S. News article said. “Rather, constructal law predicts that the system will continue to evolve to remove obstacles that stand between the most talented players and the NBA.”

Bejan also pointed out that this holds true for other complex systems, like water creating river deltas and blood flowing through arteries. It’s true in academics as well as athletics, he argues, with top students trying to earn their way into Ivy League schools.

It’s an interesting theory, I thought.

• I got a call this week from John Poggio, a KU education professor, returning my call from last week.

He’d been on vacation, and wasn’t checking his messages regularly, so he didn’t call back in time to make into my story on the sale of two KU companies. This happens, as you might imagine, on a somewhat regular basis. It usually doesn’t gum up the works too much (the story still came out and the sun rose the next morning).

But with this blog, now, I have the opportunity to come back and revisit some of these topics.

Poggio is one of the professors who was involved in the formation of the company Computerized Assessments and Learning LLC, which was recently acquired by Educational Testing Service of Princeton, N.J.

ETS is the world’s largest testing service, Poggio said, and is interested in online testing services, which CAL offers. So far, he said, ETS has indicated it wants to keep the company in Lawrence.

With the future in online testing, Poggio said he could envision CAL, which has about 20 to 25 high-tech employees in Lawrence, potentially growing to 300 to 400 employees someday.

• It’s Heard on the Hill kudos time — this time to a group of KU aerospace engineering students, who I heard placed third in an aircraft design competition in Fort Worth, Texas.

The seniors are pilots for KU’s Jayhawk Heavy Lift design team, and designed the remote control aircraft Goed Genoeg II (“Good Enough” in Dutch) for the Society of Automotive Engineers’ Aero Design West competition from March 18-21.

The team improved on last year’s ninth place finish in the competition.

With the third place finish, the team also plans to compete in the SAE Aero Design East competition from April 29-May 1 in Marietta, Ga.

More information on the competition, including a list of the participating seniors, is available here.

• I wonder if Bill Self has heard of constructal law. My money says he’s probably a little bit more worried about Kevin Anderson these days. That’s the Richmond point guard, and not the Journal-World photographer, by the way. All Kevin Andersons should feel free to submit their tips for Heard on the Hill the way everyone else does it — by sending me an email at


blindrabbit 6 years, 11 months ago

Interesting observation! My guess "constructal law" works in reverse as well. A good example, how the KU football program never seems to move too far forward regardless of the effort. Also, why successful basketball schools generally don't seem to hatch equally talented football teams, i.e., KU, Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana, Arizona. Obviously, there are some exceptions.

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