Arlington, Texas — With so much talent on the floor, tonight’s game here inside Cowboys Stadium really does have a Final Four feel to it and that is in fact where basketball’s biggest game will take place in April, 2014.
Michigan-Kansas is a South Regional semifinal and one of the more intriguing on the board because it features KU’s tough defense against Michigan’s versatile band of big-time scorers, led by point guard Trey Burke.
The closer it draws to the 6:27 p.m. scheduled tipoff, the stronger my guess grows as to which team will prevail. Kansas has the experience advantage. Michigan relies more on three-point shots than Kansas and domes can be difficult places to shoot three-pointers.
Plus, nothing can prepare a team for playing against Jeff Withey’s defensive brilliance. Freshman Mitch McGary, 6-foot-10, 250-pound bruiser, has come on strong for the Wolverines, but he does not have the shooting range to draw Withey away from the basket. Michigan has gone 8-6 in its last 14 games, Kansas 12-1 in its last 13.
Kansas can play its way into trouble against teams that apply intense pressure on the guards. While Michigan is as good as anybody in the country at protecting the ball, it doesn’t apply full-court pressure and force a ton of turnovers. Kansas 77, Michigan 70.
Kansas junior reserve forward Justin Wesley injured his right ankle Saturday in practice and will not suit up for today's game against North Carolina, according to a Kansas source, who added that Wesley was scheduled to undergo an X-ray today. Wesley is wearing a soft cast and using crutches.
A junior from Forth Worth, Texas, Wesley has averaged 3.6 minutes, 0.4 points and 1.1 rebounds in 19 games.
The tipoff for the game has been moved from 4:15 p.m. to 4:25 p.m.
March Madmen all over the globe are about to become one with their favorite sporting event. A quick look at some NCAA Tournament tidbits with quotes spiced in from press conferences:
Eight New Mexico State players, including its top five scorers, were born outside the United States. The Aggies feature four players from Canada, two from France, one from Croatia and and one from South Africa.
New Mexico State not only has the most international team in the tournament, it also has the tallest player. Sim Bhullar, a freshman from Toronto, is a 7-foot-5, 355-pound starting center for the Aggies. Bhullar averages 10.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 24.3 minutes per game.
“I think he changes the whole game for us and other teams as well because a lot of teams are not used to seeing that (much size) in there,” teammate Daniel Mullings said. “And while guys are driving in he’s just a big force, just blocking everything and altering shots. So it’s a great advantage for us having him inside.”
St. Louis junior Rob Loe is the biggest player in most games he plays, but he’ll be giving up six inches and 110 pounds to Bhullar.
*Michigan starters Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III and reserve Jon Horford all are sons of former NBA players.
“Purely coincidence, but we feel really good about it because you know their dads do know basketball,” Wolverines coach John Beilein said.
*One of the better individual tourney matchups pits Michigan’s Trey Burke and South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters, two of the nation’s top point guards, on each other.
“We’ll have Nate on Trey,” South Dakota State coach Scott Nagy said. “I don’t know what they’ll do. ... And I’ve said this before, Nate is a tremendous defender, but we’ve relied on him so much to play 40 minutes and to handle a basketball that I think sometimes people don’t get to see how good a defender he is."
*Bryce Drew is the third member of his family to serve as head coach at Valparaiso University, which faces Michigan State today. His father, Homer Drew, coached the Crusaders for 22 seasons. Bryce’s brother, Scott, was head coach for one year and is in his 10th season at Baylor. Bryce is in his second season as head coach at Valpo. He played six seasons in the NBA after hitting one of the most famous shots in recent NCAA Tournament history. Drew hit a 23-foot buzzer-beater to score an upset of Ole Miss in the first round of the 1998 NCAA Tournament. He said he enjoys watching replays of the shot but never brings it up to recruits.
“I think the last thing that players want to hear is a coach talk about himself or what he’s done,” Drew said.
*At times, it looks as if a rebound or pass sneaks up on Marquette center Chris Otule, catches him by surprise, and he drops it. The temptation is to downgrade his hands when that happens, but it’s actually not the case. Otule wears goggles when he plays to protect his right eye. His left eye is artificial.
“I guess you could call it glaucoma,” Otule told the Milwakuee Journal-Sentinel. “I was born with one ye, actually, and the other one wasn’t full developed. So I had to get an artificial eye, since I was 1 or 2. And every time I grew out of it, I had to go back to the doctor and they’d make a new one.”
Otule, who splits time with more gifted offensive center Davante Gardner, had one of his better games, last season against UConn, the day he met Charlie Krauss, a 2-year-old boy from the Milwaukee area who lost his left eye to a congenital disorder known as Coats’ disease.
“It felt so good holding him, knowing that he’s going through the same thing I went through and that he looks up to me,” Otule told the Journal-Sentinel. “It helped motivate me more in that game, and for the rest of my life, to play for people like him.”
*Three factors contribute greatly to No. 14 seed Davidson becoming such a popular upset pick against third-seeded Marquette: 1. Davidson has won 17 in a row; 2. The Wildcats lead the nation in free-throw shooting, making 80.1 percent; 3. Forward Clint Mann, out since mid-January with an injury, is expected to play.
Not only that, Davidson has all 80 points back this season from the team that scored an 80-74 upset victory against Kansas on Dec. 19, 2011 in Sprint Center.
*If Josh Pastner ever leaves Memphis for another college job, he left himself open for an obvious question at his introductory news conference by saying, “I think our fan base is the best fan base in the entire country, hands down, and that’s not just coach-speak.” The question: How would you compare the fan base of your new school to that of your last one?
Throughout spring football, I’ll be writing a series of blogs looking at each position unit on the Kansas football team, starting with the one that on paper — rather in cyberspace — looks like the weakest and building to the strongest. Wide receiver has the dubious distinction of batting leadoff.
Logic says if a wide receiver couldn’t earn playing time as a junior on a team that didn’t have a single touchdown reception from the position for the entire 12-game season there is no reason to believe he’ll do anything memorable as a senior.
So why am I thinking, yet again, that things finally will click for Christian Matthews? Maybe it’s because when he does do something well he does it in a way that makes it look as if a big-time athlete is trapped in there waiting to bust loose. This will be his last chance and that senior sense of urgency sometimes can lead talented athletes to stop thinking and start playing.
In limited action the past two seasons as a running quarterback in the wildcat formation, Matthews has blended speed with sharp cuts to make moves that would seem to translate well to yards after catches. So far though his spring-game success hasn’t carried him into autumn. He followed a 37-yard TD reception in the 2010 spring game with a 53-yard score in the 2011 game. His regular-season receiving stats: A 41-yard catch in 2010, 11 receptions for 100 yards in 2011, no receptions in 2012.
Without having anything solid to back up my hunch about Matthews in 2013, I thought about keeping it quiet. Then I asked tight end Jimmay Mundine for his opinion as to the best wide receiver on the squad.
“If I had to pick a guy now I’d pick Christian Matthews,” Mundine said. “He’s working hard. He’s starting to take more of a leadership role. We’re expecting more out of him than last year, that’s for sure.”
“His work ethic,” Mundine said. “When we’re out there doing seven on seven, he’s catching the ball, finishing his route, exploding upfield, things that you hate doing. You hate the coach being on you about it. When you see a guy doing it when no one’s telling him to do it, it makes you realize he really cares.”
Mundine said he thinks Matthews and Chris Omigiee are the two hardest workers among the receivers participating in spring football.
“I’m going to try my hardest senior year,” Matthews said. “I don’t want to go out like a sucker, so I’m going to give it my all.”
Matthews lined up at receiver at the end of a few games last season but said he didn’t have a single pass thrown to him. He’s listed behind Tre’ Parmalee on the depth chart at the slot, a big step toward more snaps.
Matthews has something in common with every player except one listed on the roster at receiver in that he is seeking his first career TD catch. Andrew Turzilli, who is entering his red-shirt junior season, caught a TD pass against Georgia Tech in 2011. That makes one Division I TD catch on the entire roster at the position. (Junior-to-be JaCorey Shepherd, who shifted to cornerback last season, had two TD receptions in his first college game, against McNeese State in 2011, and picked up a third against Oklahoma State.)
Asked to name a receiver who has caught his eye, Matthews said, “Drew Turzilli. He’s big. He can catch, fast. Can’t stop that.”
Things didn’t work out at Oklahoma for Justin McCay and the Sooners had no trouble signing off on letting him transfer to another Big 12 school. Chances are he never would have played his way onto the depth chart in Norman, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make an impact for Kansas. He’s not a burner, but he’s not slow either. He’s physical with sure hands.
With no sure things on hand, the Jayhawks needed to score big at this position in recruiting and didn’t. Or did they? Mark Thomas, a junior college receiver from New York, runs a 4.4 40 and was overlooked early because he played in a run-first offense. West Virginia recruited him late and the Mountaineers don’t mess with slow receivers. Something about the way head coach Weis looks when he talks about Thomas indicates he thinks he might be the sleeper of the recruiting class.
Weis talked up the receiving unit a year ago at this time and, next to quarterback, it became the team’s most disappointing unit. Don’t look for disappointment to enter the picture this year because expectations hang low.
He played basketball at both Wichita State and Kansas two decades ago, so I thought it would be interesting to see what Greg Dreiling, former NBA center and current scout for the Dallas Mavericks, thinks about Kansas state legislators introducing last month a bill that would require KU and WSU to play basketball against each other.
Dreiling, 50, responded to my query via LinkedIn with common sense and a touch of sarcasm. He gave the issue all the respect it deserves, which is to say none.
“Please tell me that the legislature has more important things to worry about than whether two teams play a few basketball games,” Dreiling said. “If the schools cannot decide how to get together for a game of hoops, then I am sure there is nothing that the state government can do to move along the most pressing issue of this generation.”
Ames, Iowa — Iowa State has more going for it in tonight’s Big 12 matchup against Kansas than Hilton Magic. The Cyclones’ style of play also is one that can give the Jayhawks trouble.
Every year Bill Self’s Kansas basketball teams rank at or near the top of the nation in field-goal percentage defense. They get there by clogging up the lane with long, athletic bodies. Kansas defenders always help off their man about as well as anyone in the country. It’s a blessing, but against a team like Iowa State it also can be a curse.
The Cyclones flood the floor with long-range shooters from every position. Even if a defender’s scouting report says not to leave his man, that’s easier said than done for players so well drilled on lending help defense.
“I think the way Iowa state plays, and you could go back to Belmont, Richmond, those teams were getting off 32, 36 threes against us and I think a lot of it stems from how we play,” 10th year KU coach Bill Self said. “Even when we pressure we don’t pressure out as much as a lot of people do, especially to shooters. We’ve got to do a lot better job of that. But the biggest thing to me is ball-screen defense. How are we going to guard their open ball screens and not put us in a situation where you have to close out from great distances?”
In KU’s 97-89 overtime victory against Iowa State, played in Allen Fieldhouse on Jan. 9, the Cyclones attempted 38 three-pointers and made 14. Six different players hit at least one three, five players more than one.
Georges Niang, Iowa State’s 6-foot-7, 245-pound freshman center, will try to draw Kansas center Jeff Withey away from the hoop. Niang has hit multiple three-pointers in six games. In the first 1:50 of the thriller in Allen Fieldhouse, Niang gave the visitors an 8-3 lead by hitting two three-pointers and a two-point jumper.
Not that Iowa State is one-dimensional. The Cyclones made 4 of 24 from three against Baylor in Hilton and still won, 79-71. But Baylor isn't Kansas. If KU can keep the Cyclones from getting hot from beyond the arc, a ninth consecutive Big 12 title should come into clear focus for the Jayhawks.
Last week he was golfing with Moses Malone and other basketball legends in Houston during NBA All-Star Week. He’s back in snow-covered Lawrence and will be mini-golfing indoors tonight to help the Lawrence Public Library Foundation raise money.
If you know anything at all about Bud Stallworth, you know that has been his life in a nutshell: Books, basketball and golf.
Next time you enter Allen Fieldhouse, look at the banner hanging on the north wall, the one that says “Academic All-Americans.” You’ll find his name on it.
If you attend tonight’s Caddy Stacks bash at the vacant library (707 Vermont Street), the friendly, approachable Stallworth will have stories to tell. Ask him to share the one about:
*Meeting and getting to know heavyweight champion and anti-war activist Muhammad Ali, the world’s most famous 20th-century athlete.
*Playing under coach Bill Russell, the greatest champion in the history of basketball, but a better player than coach, according to Stallworth.
*Being recruited to play basketball for his home state’s university by Alabama’s legendary football coach, Bear Bryant, but deciding to come to Kansas instead.
*Teaming with Spencer Haywood in Seattle and Pistol Pete Maravich in New Orleans. If you think Stallworth liked to shoot, ask him about Pistol.
*Playing in the NBA against Wilt Chamberlain, Walt Frazier, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and so many other greats.
*Scoring 50 points against Missouri on Feb. 26, 1972.
Those are the stories everyone likes to discuss, but Stallworth knows that his parents, both of whom were educators in his small hometown of Hartselle, Ala., were right when they told him books would do even more for him than basketball.
After his NBA career ended, Stallworth owned a couple of restaurants before he moved back to Lawrence and went to work for his alma mater. Stallworth held big jobs for the Med Center and on the Lawrence campus during his 22 years working for KU.
“When the classrooms began crumbling,” as Stallworth put it, he oversaw a budget of nearly $50 million for projects designed to improve the infrastructure.
His degree, he said, did do more for him even than his sweet jumper. Tonight, he’ll showcase his lefty putting stroke.
“I’ve been putting pretty good lately,” said Stallworth, one of the Masters at tonight’s event.
KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger, former Royals pitcher and KU baseball coach Marty Pattin, Firekeeper head pro Randy Towner and Lawrence Country Club assistant pro Kristen Samp are among other Lawrence Masters participating in the event.
A ticket for the Mingle with the Masters pre-party, which begins at 6:30 is $50. Adult open golf begins at 7:30 and costs $35.
Indianapolis — The final NCAA Tournament mock bracket completed this afternoon had the school with the second-most all-time college basketball victories among the field of 68. Kansas, seeded third in the South (Dallas) regional, faces Harvard in its first game in the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
The schools that rank first and third all-time did not make the field. Defending champion Kentucky and perennial powerhouse North Carolina are in the midst of off seasons and if they don’t get their acts together are in danger of missing the real tournament field as well.
After all the numbers were crunched, it came down to something simple. Two of the biggest names in the game fell short in the quality-victories department. North Carolina’s two best: At home against UNLV and on the road against Florida State.
Kentucky’s most impressive victory: At Ole Miss, 87-74. Wildcats freshman Norlens Noel had 12 blocked shots in that one. Noel’s gone for the season and most among us on the mock committee thought that Kentucky had a weak case even without considering that Noel’s injury weakens the defending champion even more.
The top four seeds in each region:
Midwest (Indianapolis): 1. Indiana, 2. Florida, 3. Louisville, 4. Kansas State.
South (Atlanta): 1. Duke, 2. Arizona, 3. Kansas, 4. Georgetown.
East (Washington, D.C.) 1. Miami (Fl), 2. Michigan State, 3. Syracuse, 4. Wisconsin.
West (Los Angeles) 1. Michigan, 2. Gonzaga, 3. Butler, 4. New Mexico.
The often referenced “S Curve” no longer is used by the committee. For example, Kansas was ranked No. 9 on the seed sheet but does not go to the region of the fourth No. 1 seed. Geography takes precedence.
Missouri? It’s seeded eighth in the South, meaning the earliest a fake Border War (squirt guns?) could take place would be in the Elite Eight.
Six Big 12 teams made the field, but it’s a no-no to mention conference affiliation in the committee room. Teams are treated as if all are independents, according to real NCAA selection chairman Mike Bobinski, and are evaulated on their merits. Here’s where the Big 12 teams other than KU landed:
Kansas State: Seeded fourth and faces, ahem, Bucknell in Austin and is in the Midwest (Indianapolis) region. Oklahoma State: Seeded fifth in the West (Los Angeles), facing Alabama in Salt Lake City. Oklahoma: Seeded sixth and plays San Diego State in Kansas City as part of the West regional. Baylor: Meets California in Dayton in a play-in game with the winner facing No. 5 seed Pittsburgh in Austin as part of the East regional.
Iowa State: Facing Virginia in Dayton in a play-in game with the winner facing No. 6 seed Oregon, also in Dayton as part of the East regional.
Indianapolis — For one more day of my charmed life I get to be Joe Lunardi with better hair. Except Lunardi just projects the NCAA Tournament field. In tandem with Mike Waters of the Syracuse Post-Dispatch, I get to be one of the 10 tandems filling in for one of the selection committee’s members.
Our final exercise Thursday night involved what's called, "scrubbing the seeds.”
The chairman starts with the No. 1 overall seed, in this case Indiana, compares it to the No. 2, Miami (Fla.), with their credentials put side-by-side on the wall. We didn’t go through the whole field that way, but the tournament committee, which has five days of meetings compared to our two, does. Duke, the third No. 1 seed, survived a comparison against Florida, the fourth No. 1.
After a comparison between Florida and the top No. 2 seed, Michigan State, those schools swapped places. Since Michigan State moved up a spot, it then was compared to Duke, but didn’t get moved past the Blue Devils.
During the scrubbing process, every team moved up a spot gets compared to the team now in front of it and every team that moves down a spot is compared to the team now behind it.
“Some years you’ll see a team just start dropping,” said tournament selection committee chairman Mike Bobinski, Xavier University’s athletic director. “One year a team dropped down an elevator shaft. It dropped about 20 spots.”
Kansas, seeded third, could move up or down during the scrubbing process. Also, since the fake conference tournament final isn’t until today (it’s a KU vs. Kansas State fake final), that result could rock the boat as well.
By the end of today’s session, in a window-less room full of snacks and hacks, we’ll have a mock tournament bracket.
If history is an accurate indicator, the room will grow most tense when the final spot or spots are debated.
Once shown how the bracketing process works, we will be armed to debunk myths, assured David Worlock of the NCAA.
For example, he said if a UCLA-Pittsburgh match-up happens at some point in the tournament, it won’t be because the bracket was rigged for the drama of control-freak (my words, not his) UCLA coach Ben Howland facing his former school.
“CBS does not have any input,” Worlock said. “TNT doesn’t have a say. It just doesn’t happen that way.”
They aren’t in the room.
For one more day, if only in fantasy land, I will have more power than TV networks. I’m in the room, encouraged to speak up. They’re on the outside, eating ice cream.
Indianapolis — In this room without windows in the NCAA offices we have taken a first crack at the top three seed lines.
No. 1 seeds: Indiana, Miami, Duke and Florida. No. 2 seeds: Michigan State, Michigan, Arizona (shockingly) and Gonzaga. No. 3 seeds: Syracuse, Butler, Kansas and Louisville.
Now the mock committee breaks for dinner for 35 minutes. (You mean those Reese's bars weren't supposed to be dinner? Uh-oh.)
Interestingly, conference affiliation is not allowed to be mentioned when discussing teams. For example, you can say Gonzaga defeated Oklahoma by 15, Kansas State by 16, Baylor by 7 and Oklahoma State by 1, but pointing out that the Zags are 4-0 against the Big 12 is forbidden.
A tweaking of the seeds could be necessary based on various rules, such as the one that prohibits conference foes from facing each other too early in the tournament.