The question came in last night, shortly after Kansas beat Oklahoma for its 10th straight conference championship, an accomplishment I compared to raisin bran here, and normally Id have included it as a regular question below but I think its on a lot of peoples minds so lets get to it:
By SAM MELLINGER
The Kansas City Star
What would the last decade of KU basketball be like in a different conference?
There are a number of ways to look at this hypothetical, and what follows are just a few.
During KUs streak, in conference RPI, the Big 12 has ranked third, fifth, sixth, second, sixth, first, fourth, fourth, fifth and, this year, first. Thats an average of between third and fourth. So, not great but not awful.
During KUs streak, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas State, and Baylor have finished in the top 10 of the final AP poll. Texas has done it three times, and Missouri did it twice before leaving. Kansas has "only" been in the top 10 five of the 10 years. So KU has had to beat good teams.
Heres another way of looking at it. Best as I can tell, Kentucky has not won or finished second in SEC for 10 straight years at any point since the 1950s. Best I can tell, Duke has never had a streak of 10 straight years finishing first or second in the ACC.
North Carolina finished second in 1975, won four straight through 1979, finished (tied for) second in 1980, second place in 1981, and then won four straight regular season titles in the ACC
Again, I cant stress these words enough best I can tell but that looks like the closest approximation to what KU is doing since Woodens UCLA dynasty.
Now, would KU have won 10 straight titles if it played in the ACC? Almost certainly not. But I dont know how much that takes away from the accomplishment. This has spanned 68 players, conference realignment, different playing styles, rules changes, early defections for the NBA, unexpected transfers, injuries, illnesses, and ever distraction and potential obstacle that 10 years of the highest level of college basketball has to offer.
No Big 12 team but Kansas has made the Final Four during the streak, and there are always points you can come up with on the other side. But trying to find flaws in a decade straight of power conference championships in a major revenue sport just doesnt make sense to me.
Speaking of Woodens UCLA dynasty, this weeks reading recommendation is Seth Davis wonderfully done biography on the man. Theres so much in here that I didnt know about Wooden, and a lot that goes against the popular narrative of St. John. This weeks eating recommendation is the chile fondue at BRGR.
As always, thanks for your help and for reading.
@mellinger was the baby born yet?— garron abernathy (@myownperson44) February 24, 2014
Not yet, but were at the point where the Smokeshow is putting a towel down before she sits on the couch.
Which is why youre not going to hear from me much here or anywhere else the next week or two.
@mellinger are you going to teach your kid to be a KC sports fan? If so, what's the most important thing to tell them about being a KC fan?— Kyle (@Eichelburgler) February 24, 2014
Up to him, of course, but if the Smokeshow has anything to do with it hell be a Michigan State fan.
If he does choose to root for the Chiefs or Royals, well, it will be a good opportunity to let him know that things dont always turn out the way you hope. This life includes heartbreak, disappointment, strangers ruining your day for no reason and in that way, I cant think of a better real-life learning experience than rooting for the franchises that gave us Colt Griffin and Lin Elliott.
But, really, whatever he wants is what I want. If he hates sports and wants to be in the band, or choir, or ballet, or French club, whatever, Im for it.
I will make you guys one promise here, though. I will not raise one of these punk kids who are sending society straight to hell, and you know exactly who Im talking about:
The kid who declares himself a Heat, Yankees, and Patriots fan.
Not under my roof.
Depends how you do the math. I do think the offense will be much better. Chris Getz and Jeff Francoeur gave them 430 plate appearances of a black hole, and they better hope Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas dont combine for more than a thousand plate appearances of the same again.
But its natural to look at the lineup and see a lot of potential. Alex Gordon is one of the older regulars, and he only turned 30 this month. Moustakas, Sal Perez and Eric Hosmer are each 25 or younger. Nori Aoki and Omar Infante, no matter what you think of their particular skills, are massive upgrades.
One way to do this is with math. Getz and Franceour were good for a combined -1.0 in FanGraphs WAR last year. Aoki and Infante project to combine for about a +5.0 this year.
Ervin Santana was a 3.0 on FanGraphs last year, and Jason Vargas figures to be around 1.5 this year.
So in that way, the offseason was a tremendous success, and the Royals should be better.
But there are a lot of things that arent being computed when we do it this way. James Shields, for all his talents, will be hard-pressed to be better than he was last year. Same with Greg Holland. Most of the hitters should be better, but the point here is that the Royals won last year with pitching and defense and most of the pitchers cant be expected to exceed what they did last year.
My gut feeling in just looking at this team is that its very solid, especially when you think about the holes and question marks that exist in every big league team. But when I picture myself putting actual money down on one outcome or the other, I always think about the fact that every time this organization has had a scrap of expectation on it, the team has dissolved like wet toilet paper.
That shouldnt have anything to do with this particular group, but you cant get that out of your head. You cant pretend like history doesnt exist.
@mellinger Should the Shuttlecock Cmte worry that Moose learned to do push ups? How soon post-birth will you abandon your seed for AZ sun?— Dollar Phil (@pjrzeeck) February 24, 2014
Moustakas is probably the single biggest key to whether this team can be better than good. If theyre going to be a playoff-type team, they cant have their third baseman swinging a paper bat. You figure Hosmer will hit, Butler will hit, Perez will be a star. There are some relative knowns here, but Moose could be awful at the plate again (whether they say it or not, thats part of why the Royals traded for Danny Valencia) or he could hit .270 with 25 homers and drive in 80.
The other obvious critical spot is the back of the rotation, where the Royals probably need big contributions from at least one and more likely two out of the talented but unproven trio of Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer.
Also, Im still kicking around whether I can get down to Arizona. Im torn.
@mellinger My smoking hot wife and I are going to spring training this year. Any food recommendations for out there?— Travis Scrutchfield (@Tscrutch) February 24, 2014
Are you staying in Surprise? Because I would not recommend staying in Surprise.
Surprise is, basically, a retirement community. A lot of the city is 4 p.m. at Furrs, but all the time and everywhere. Its great for convenience, but if youre asking me for food recommendations, the best I can do in Surprise is a little Italian place called Rosies. Scottsdale is you want to be, and if youre in the mood to splurge, try Cowboy Ciao.
Also, youll hear people talk about Pizzeria Bianco. Its very good. But dont listen to people who act like itll change your life.
@mellinger at what point of desperation do Royals/Santana make a deal?— Joe Tarwater (@joetar33) February 24, 2014
I have no idea, but the way Santanas agent (Jay Alou) has operated this offseason, anything up to and including Santana selling lemonade at Kauffman Stadium this summer is possible.
Put it this way: if you begin the offseason talking about a $100 million contract, and end the offseason talking about an $8 million deal while a very comparable pitcher (who is also tied to draft pick compensation) just got $50 million you have gravely screwed up somewhere along the way.
Now, Alou and Santana have put themselves in a position where they may wait until after opening day, or even the June draft, to sign. History has shown that baseball teams almost always end up paying for talent, but for an aging pitcher with arm issues, this is an enormous gamble.
Baseball is full of down time, no matter what they tell you. Thats why guys are free to spend time before games watching movies (sometimes the dirty kind), playing cards, or challenging each other in video games.
Its a grind, dont get me wrong. But its much more like Chinese water torture than a UFC fight, which means if youre smart about where you take a breather it can be manageable.
As for the lifting, different guys do it at different times. But the balance between staying in shape and staying fresh is one of the most difficult (and usually overlooked by media) parts of a baseball season. If you have a game at 7, do you want to lift earlier in the day, knowing you have to be careful not to leave yourself tired or sore for the game? Or do you want to lift after the game, when youre worn out and might have a crappy workout?
But the dilemma youre talking about is why big leaguers usually protect their in-season offdays like hidden treasures.
The Royals hope its Yordano Ventura. Thats their best possible outcome, because they believe hes physically capable of making 32 starts and throwing 200 innings, and clearly has the kind of talent to be successful against big league hitters.
Theyre taking it slow with Zimmer, and Duffy still has some questions about command and pitch efficiency (as well as whether hes fully recovered from Tommy John surgery).
@mellinger what is it about Bruce a Weber that makes him such a bad recruiter? It's not Manhattan, Martin proved that.— David Embers (@davidembers) February 24, 2014
Well, I guess I dont accept the premise. Weber had five three-star kids in his first recruiting class, and Marcus Foster has an excellent case for first-team All-Big 12. He has another three-star recruit signed for next year in Tre Harris and is in on more.
Franks DC Assault pipeline had dried up by the time he left for South Carolina. His last recruiting class included four three-stars. The year before that, three three-stars and one four-star, Nino Williams, who was local and did not show up in Rivals top 150.
I mean, really, Franks recruits looked an awful lot like Webers recruits (so far). Three-star kids, not in the top 150s. The exceptions for Frank, obviously, were that first class with Michael Beasley, Bill Walker and Dominique Sutton, but that was still with Bob Huggins influence.
Wally Judge was the big hope for a while, but he never produced, transferred, and is a big reason that DC Assault pipeline was dry. The story didnt need to grow legs because Frank left, but he was beginning to be bad-mouthed in recruiting circles. He just wasnt getting those top-level kids anymore.
He was making do with the mid-level recruit, needing to find underrated kids with star potential. For all the talk about how Weber cant recruit, did Frank ever have a freshman after that initial Huggins University class play as well as Foster has so far this year?
5. Field of Dreams, because of this:
4. Eight Men Out, because of this:
3. The Sandlot, because of this:
2. The Natural, because of this:
1. Major League, because of this:
Well, we just look for good writers, whove been well-edited, and like to write. Im not going to get caught up in a guys typing time, or how big his notebook is, or even what color pen he uses. Thats for you guys to talk about. Im just looking for good writers, smart writers, who like to write and want to be part of what were trying to do here as a writing team.
@mellinger which is more ridiculous? Winning 10 straight Big XII championships or ordering and actually eating a dozen wings from Pizza Hut?— Brandon Urban (@burban77) February 24, 2014
Im ashamed to admit this, but were all friends here:
There was a dark time in my life where I considered the wings from Pizza Hut not just passable for a desperation wing emergency, but even enjoyable.
Forgive me, friends.
@mellinger is it okay to start calling for Haith's job? Rode Anderson's players to a good year, two underachieving seasons, no tourney wins.— Gavin (@GJAlexander) February 24, 2014
Well, I dont know how many coaches win 75 games in their first three seasons (which Haith would do with just three more wins) and get fired. So, yeah. Calling for his job is a bit premature.
He absolutely has not taken advantage of the opportunity hes had there, and he surely understands that whatever criticism hes getting right now is justified.
As brilliant as that team played his first season in Columbia people can talk all they want about it being a turn-key operation there, but he was also managing with seven scholarship players this is two years in a row where Missouri hasnt been well-coached.
They should be better than this, and Haith needs to transition from relying on transfers to getting program players in there out of high school.
@mellinger excluding inexperience, what's the biggest issue for the Jayhawks as tournament time approaches?— adam newman (@adamnewman913) February 24, 2014
Toughness and defense, which is a very bizarre thing to say about a Bill Self team. But this group has a tendency to go soft at the wrong time, and they havent developed into the defensive monster that you usually expect from Selfs teams by this time of year.
Self said something after the game last night that was interesting, about feeling like this group had learned how to win. He said that last night was a game theyd have lost earlier in the season, and hes probably right. Oklahoma played tough, kept it close deep into the second half, and then KU made the plays down the stretch Naadir Tharpe, in particular.
But if youre judging KU by the high standard theyve set for themselves, you still have to wonder if they can do it away from home, and do it when it matters in the NCAA Tournament.
Also, theyre not a very good three-point shooting team.
@mellinger What's your stance on the Oxford comma debate?— Jimmy Hart (@TheJimmyHart) February 24, 2014
Im pro-Oxford comma, but accepting of all viewpoints.
@mellinger favorite Harold Ramis movie?— Ryan Patrick Dolan (@RPDplays) February 24, 2014
The correct answer is Caddyshack.
And for proof, I give you this:
If youre in a position where you can sip something a little bit and enjoy it, get a Blantons with just a few ice cubes.
If you have the type of friends who wont let that happen, Ive been high on the Odell Myrcenary lately.
Also: be sure to drink water.
@mellinger How far would Wichita State have to go in tournament to prevent a loss getting them the global 'overrated' tag from most people— John E Uebelein (@EvanUebe) February 24, 2014
Whatever seed they are, they cant be the first one out. Make it to the Sweet 16 and you should be covered, particularly with the Final Four run last year.
@mellinger In honor of all the combine buzz, would you care to share with us your 40 yard dash time?— Reed Koutelas (@KoutelasReed) February 24, 2014
I actually did this, sort of, a few years back. There was an Arena Football League in town, and they held open tryouts, so my boss knowing that I am a stone-cold killer in Pop-A-Shot thought I was a good enough athlete that I should at least go fail at this tryout.
Well, the first one I ran they got me at 5.24 seconds, which, as I wrote at the time, "isnt bad for an offensive lineman, or, say, a toddler."
The second one I ran was 5.10, and this is just dumb, because I ripped my hamstring somewhere around the 30 or 35 yard mark. Im not exaggerating. I left the day after the "tryout" to cover the baseball playoffs, and I was limping all over the damn place.
It was a loss all the way around for me.
If I trained, I think I could crack 5 seconds, no matter what Clay Travis says.
@mellinger How likely is it the Chiefs go either DL or OL for their first rounder?— #Chiefs Draft Talk (@KCChiefsDraft) February 24, 2014
I have no idea and, you should know, neither does anyone else you will ask.
Unless John Dorsey is your homeboy.
@mellinger who's your dream Draft pick by the chiefs this year? Who do you think they will actually pick?— Osie Enriquez (@WizardOfOsie) February 24, 2014
I dont know if either will be available, and obviously Ive put in about 1/10,000th the work of the Chiefs front office here.
And, again, I have no idea who they will actually pick and neither does anyone else you will ask.^
^ Unless Andy Reid is their homeboy.
@mellinger KOL/Gary Clark Jr at Sprint Center. GC Fan, KOL not so much. Full price for opening act worth it?— Jim Fischer (@withasee) February 24, 2014
Thats a tough one. The tickets arent outrageous. Looks like the most expensive is $55.50, and you can get in for $29.50. But I almost always think this is a bad idea, when youre paying the headliner price to see the opening act. I wish there was a way around this, especially with this particular show, because Gary Clark Jr. is awesome and Kings of Leon, meh.
Judgment is to sit this one out.
@mellinger I had Chocolate Ale and it blew already lofty expectations out of the water. Where does it rank for you?— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) February 24, 2014
I liked it the first year (though not as much as the hype), and last year I thought it sucked. This years batch is the best one yet, I love it, but its still one of those beers you can only drink one of.
This years batch is a borderline top 10, but if we take the three-year average, borderline top 50.
Grantland did the bracket a few years back, with Clayton Bigsby beating Wayne Brady in the championship game. Tough to argue with that. Bigsby was The Best Skit they did, probably, but I think I may have laughed harder at the Mad Real World, Prince, Piss On You, and Black Bush. Jury Selection was tough, too.
Gun to my head, Im going Prince.