Gregorian Chants

Columnist Vahe Gregorian offers musings about the sports scene in and around Kansas City

Friday Five: Tarik Black and foul play, Tiger fans rip Mizzou and KU track at White House

03/14/2014 7:00 AM

03/13/2014 10:31 PM

1. Tarik’s turn

Before the season, Kansas coach Bill Self suggested Memphis transfer Tarik Black may be the “steal of any recruiting class in America” because of his maturity and work ethic.

That hasn’t quite proven the case so far, but Black’s leadership alone, Andrew Wiggins said Thursday, has been “amazing” because “he’s been there, he’s done that.”

Now with center Joel Embiid out through at least the first week of the NCAA Tournament, Black is back in the starting lineup and being asked to do a lot more. And he largely came through Thursday against Oklahoma State.

Black plucked 12 rebounds, including eight in the first half, and finished with seven points along with a handful of gritty box-outs and tip-outs that don’t show up in the box score.

He’s by no means the explosive Embiid, who averages 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocked shots, but it was the kind of sturdy effort that can keep KU afloat as it awaits Embiid’s return.

With an asterisk.

Foul trouble has marred his season, and it always lurks nearby. Black entered the game with 77 fouls in 353 minutes, meaning he would foul out in less than 25 minutes on average.

He got through the first half almost unscathed Thursday, being assessed just once. Then he racked up three in eight minutes in the second half but played all of the overtime session without a fifth.

“You just never know how the whistle’s going to blow, man. It’s not my decision when that foul happens and when the foul doesn’t; it’s the referees,’” he said, smiling. “In the first half, they might have let some things go, or I might have just been moving my feet better. Who knows?”

But Black said, “I’m going to stay aggressive regardless.”

For better or worse.

2. Shockers in St. Louis

Wichita State is hoping not only for a No. 1 seed, which it’s earned, but also for a berth to play its first NCAA games in St. Louis.

That’s where the undefeated Shockers just won the Missouri Valley tourney.

“It would be something that we’re comfortable with,” coach Gregg Marshall told reporters there on Sunday. “There would not be any ‘ooh, aah’ moments. I think we’d actually be staying, if we get the right seed, in the same hotel, which we’re very comfortable with. We know the routine there. The breakfasts are very good.

“So from that standpoint, it would be good, and I think Shocker Nation travels pretty well. I think there would be quite a number of yellow and black clad fans in the stands. So it be would fun.”

3. Playing the field

If it seems on the outside that the NCAA field is as wide-open as it’s been in a long time, it apparently looks that way from the inside, too.

In a teleconference this week, Division I men’s basketball committee chairman Ron Wellman considered the question and said, “I’m looking at some of the committee members right now and they’re all shaking their heads yes. I think it is, in the five years I’ve been on the committee anyway. But we say this every year, so maybe there’s more and more parity in college basketball every year.”

One of these years, that means a so-called mid-major isn’t just going to crash the Final Four but win it. Are these Shockers the ones?

4. Tweet of the day

On Thursday, “bracketologist” Jerry Palm, self-described “sports geek at” who can be followed @jppalmCBS, posted:

“For months, my twitter feed is full of fans making the case for their team. Missouri fans are different. They absolutely BURY their team.”

Such is life in the Show-Me State. Sputtering MU beat Texas A in double overtime on Thursday in the SEC Tournament but needs to beat top-ranked Florida today to salvage an NCAA berth.

5. Executive privilege

The Kansas women’s track team was among 19 Division I national championship teams honored Monday at the White House, where President Barack Obama met with the athletes and later gave a speech to an assembled group that hasn’t always enjoyed such limelight.

Obama took a little jab at the impact of conference realignment when he said college athletics at their core are about “more than network ratings.” He later thanked the women’s champions for being role models for his own daughters and other young women.

“There was a time when college women’s athletics was relegated to second status, and all of you here are showing the incredible strides we’ve made over the last couple of decades,” Obama said.

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