Hey you guys, remember that time Kansas State was tied for second in the Big 12?
Remember when K-State had Kansas at home, just a few weeks after losing by just a point in Lawrence, one win in front of the angriest fans in the Heartland separating the Wildcats from first place?
Remember when “K-State has a case as the second best team in the Big 12 right now” was a thing people said with a straight face?
We were all so innocent back then.
As my guy D. Scott Fritchen pointed out, K-State’s 70-56 loss to KU on Monday was the program’s worst against its rival in Manhattan since — wait for it — Jim Wooldridge’s last Big 12 regular season game as a coach.
There is some circumstance in there, some happenstance, we’re all adults here so we understand the reality of last night’s game isn’t as bad as that fact sounds but, still. It’s not good.
It’s striking to notice the difference in where these teams’ seasons appear headed. KU has four road wins, and at the moment figure to be favored by at least three or four points in every game but one (at Texas Tech).
What was supposed to be its most difficult league title in years now looks like a near lock. It is more likely KU wins the Big 12 by two or more games than shares the title.
K-State, on the other hand, is bumming. The projections at KenPom have the Wildcats underdogs in their next four games. A wretched non-conference schedule means K-State has the burden of proof for an NCAA bid, and beating Oklahoma at home was nice, but there has to be more.
The good news is K-State will have plenty of opportunities. The rest of the schedule includes at West Virginia on Saturday, at Texas next week, Texas Tech at him, at Oklahoma, and at TCU.
The bad news is that, well, jeez, that’s a tough February.
A year ago, K-State was 6-10 in the league after losing by 30 at Oklahoma. That was rock bottom, morale in the program was gone, and many assumed Bruce Weber would be fired. But the Wildcats won three in a row, including over Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament, and beat Wake Forest in an NCAA Tournament play-in game.
K-State has a good roster. Dean Wade is a star, Barry Brown is tough on both ends, Cartier Diarra has provided a lift and Kam Stokes should be back on Saturday. This is an experienced team. They should be better than the bubble, but this is where they are according to those who make such studies their work.
K-State will have every opportunity to build its postseason case.
But, man. Sure let one slip last night.
This week’s eating recommendation is the pork nuggets at The Oliver, and the reading recommendation is a cool idea by Conor Orr: I scouted the Patriots using Steve Belichick’s scouting manual.
You guys, I tried to look through the props and at some point my eyes gloss over. You people have a gambling problem, you know that?
Team charged with first timeout?
Result of first coach’s challenge?
Which will be more: Temple 3-pointers or yards of Nick Foles’ first completion?
Total third down conversions?
Longest gross punt?
Exact call of first penalty?
Which will be more, Monday beanpot goals or Tom Brady yards of first touchdown pass?
What in the world is wrong with each and every one of you.
I mean, everybody knows Tulane guards the 3-point line really well, no way Temple gets more than five or six to fall.
If you have to choose one or the other, it’s better to have a great staff of scouts with an average director than vice versa. It’s sort of like coaching staffs that way. You’d rather have terrific assistants with an average head coach than the other way around.
This isn’t said from a belief that either situation applies to the Royals, just as a point that when we talk about “Lonnie Goldberg” or “Deric Ladnier” or “Acme Scouting Director” we’re talking about much more than one man.
That said, I happen to believe that Goldberg and Ladnier are both good at their jobs.
Goldberg and the scouts who work for him are a better fit for what GM Dayton Moore wants, which is what you’d expect since Goldberg was hired by Moore.
Goldberg’s seven drafts have (so far) mixed results, which is probably something you could say about 25 other scouting directors, too.
Baseball is just hard that way.
Goldberg’s first official pick was Bubba Starling, who is now 25 and finally on the cusp of a big league call-up, though he is objectively behind even the slower schedule the Royals envisioned.
The Royals do not have a star or even a current starter from any of Goldberg’s drafts, though that comes with a bit of a disclaimer: he drafted Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed and Sean Mannaea, all used in trades to support the eventual 2015 world champions.
In addition, you could call Jake Junis a starter, and the Royals are very high on the futures of other prospects like Khalil Lee, Nicky Lopez, and Josh Staumont. Kyle Zimmer can get big leaguers out if he can ever stay healthy. It’s probably unfair to even begin to judge a baseball draft for three or four years.
This is what we have to form opinions, and so far the results are underwhelming, even with the understanding that the Royals were drafting low in some of those years and others are far too early to know about.
The more important stuff is how Lonnie does his job, and how the scouts who work for him do their jobs. Toward that end, I’ve heard nothing but good things, including from rival scouts.
I do think you bring up a good point about the scouting directors, though. Doesn’t make for insightful stories or lively debate to talk about scouts and decisions that can’t be fully judged for many years, but no matter what else the Royals do or what David Glass OKs on spending, this rebuild will sink if Goldberg’s department fails and will soar if it succeeds.
Goldberg’s success, you could say without hyperbole, is more important than any single player the Royals employ.
Every day in my email and most days on Twitter, my man.
This is an example of how warped my mind is. When someone says, “Couldn’t have said it better myself,” I instantly think, “My goodness I hope not otherwise I need to find a real job.”
To be clear and sure: there are many, many times that many, many readers could absolutely say it better than me but, you know, I try to be like a cornerback. Next play.
These types of stories always remind me of Mark Teahen, who in addition to being a dual Canadian/American citizen, pseudo Italian baseball star, Moneyball protagonist, and 2006 Royals player of the year is one of my favorite all-time athletes.
He received a letter from a fan, and I assume the letter was well-intentioned, but in reality it was completely condescending and insulting. I forget the details, but it was something like, “even my Little League team knows to choke up a little on the bat so if you do this you will hit like Babe Ruth instead of like Baby Ruth.”
I get the feeling Teahen had heard from this fan often, because at least in my memory, he (sarcastically) referenced the fan repeatedly after a good game at the plate.
Look, I mean this sincerely: I will take all the advice I can get, particularly on column or story ideas. I especially mean that with high school stuff. If you know of a kid or coach or program with a compelling story, of overcoming big odds or anything out of the ordinary, please holler at your boy: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We all come at this from different perspectives, and none are invalid, but I feel strongly about all three of your suggestions.
They cannot keep Alex Smith. It just makes no sense. They desperately need cap space to improve personnel, mostly on defense, so refusing to sell high on Smith when you can open $17 million in space, presumably get a draft pick, and play the remarkably talented kid you used two first-round picks on a year ago would be something like front office malpractice. This is less about Smith and more about business.
And, finally, it doesn’t make for great copy, but I believe Clark Hunt and all owners should stay out of football decisions. Hire a guy to do a job, and either let him do the job or replace him. I know a lot of fans seem to think this somehow falls back on Clark, but I fail to see how a guy whose background is in finance and who inherited the team from his dad should be making football decisions.
Now, if you’re saying Clark should simply do an autopsy of the last five years with Andy Reid, going through what’s worked and what hasn’t, what might be improved and what should stick going forward, then I’m all for that.
I also assume that’s happened.
I assume that happens every year, with every department head, the same way I have an annual performance review and many of you do the same.
Reid was never going to be fired after this season. That was true whether they went 6-10 and missed the playoffs or 10-6 with another historical playoff collapse. Reid is less than a year into a contract extension, saved the franchise from the Pioli Stink, and has his quarterback lined up for 2018.
I don’t believe there is a realistic scenario in which Reid is fired after 2018, either, and perhaps somewhere in here I should mention I find the idea of firing him silly anyway.
But if you’re saying Clark should simply have a man-to-man talk with Andy about what’s expected, then sure.
Again, I can’t imagine that hasn’t happened already.
Well, first let me say that it’s a joke and a petty look for Clark Hunt that Carl Peterson is not already in. I mean, come on. He hired Marty Schottenheimer, drafted Derrick Thomas and Will Shields and Tony Gonzalez and, as my friend Randy Covitz likes to point out, more than anyone else created the Arrowhead Stadium atmosphere.
Just a really bad look for Hunt to keep this going.
But you asked about players, so I’m not answering your question with that.
Derrick Johnson is an easy answer. Justin Houston will get in. Jamaal Charles. Tamba Hali and Travis Kelce, probably, though that assumes Kelce keeps going. Eric Berry.
I am probably forgetting about someone, or someones, but when they only put one in per year it’s a tough hurdle. Too early to say about Marcus Peters, though if he plays most of his career here he’s probably a yes. Tyreek Hill has a chance, though it’s way too early to say on that, and I’m not even prepared to make a Pat Mahomes joke here.
They have a lot of bodies to fill centerfield. That can be Paulo Orlando, Billy Burns, even Alex Gordon on some days in some stadiums. If the dice turn up Royals, Bubba Starling will get a chance sometime this summer. So they don’t *need* help there.
Signing Escobar is as clear a sign as is possible that the Royals don’t yet trust Raul Mondesi, and are in some ways admitting they’ve mishandled him.
Think about this: a year after giving him an opening day job over an older and more established player who would go on to hit .288/.324/.460 with 19 homers and 34 stolen bases, the Royals are committing up to $4 million to fill Mondesi’s best position with a player who hit .250/.272/.357 with 102 strikeouts* last year.
* The Royals like to talk about Escobar’s strong finish to the season, but 102 strikeouts with six homers is remarkable. Among those who struck out fewer times, with their home run totals in parentheses: Mike Moustakas (38), Joey Votto (36), Francisco Lindor (33), Jose Ramirez (29), Yasiel Puig (28) and Sal Perez (27).
The Escobar contract is a bit of a divider among Royals fans. Some are happy for a familiar face to return, others wonder if any other team would’ve offered a guaranteed contract.
Here’s where I’m at: it’s totally fine and justifiable as long as he does not block Mondesi.
In essence, the Royals are buying durability and reliability until Mondesi is ready. As long as Escobar’s playing time is dictated by Mondesi’s development, there’s nothing wrong with this deal. Paying a guy $2.5 million to $4 million to play shortstop everyday is not a lot of money.
It’s possible that the Royals are as wrong about Mondesi not being ready now as they were about him being ready a year ago, but in terms of the next “window” Mondesi is arguably the most important piece on the current payroll.
If Escobar is a relatively inexpensive insurance policy on that, fine.
I don’t care if he hits .230/.231/.231. They’re going to lose games. He can at least play a representative shortstop, and ostensibly keep the Royals from rushing one of their most valuable commodities.
Fine. This team has much bigger issues.
Was the Big 12 the best conference before realignment?
The league realigned — which is Big 12 talk for “got gutted” — because it was weak.
They should have taken Louisville during expansion, but after that, they did a pretty decent job of maintaining strength going forward.
To me, the Big 12 is either the best or second best basketball league in the country. If you judge a league by the top, then the ACC is the best. If you judge the league by depth, which is how I judge it, because that means the highest number of compelling games to watch, then the Big 12 is the best.
In football, sure, it’s toward the bottom. Most years fourth or fifth.
So, your question: what can the league do to get better?
Honestly, I don’t see much.
They’re landlocked, for one, and I thought people like me were overstating the impact losing Texas A&M would have on recruiting but they were right.
The national image of the Big 12 is so heavily dependent upon Oklahoma and especially Texas being powers, and if you’re dependent upon Texas living up to its resources that’s not a great place to be.
In fact, the worst thing you can say about the Big 12 might be that for all the complaints from other schools about how good Texas and Oklahoma have it, the one thing holding the league together is, well, how good Texas and Oklahoma have it.
Those schools can’t get this setup anywhere else — not just the financial stuff, but the relatively smooth path to a national championship.
I know I sound really negative about all of this, but that’s just how I feel.
The league has the worst football playoff record, and even those of us who believe in numbers have a hard time saying it’s the best basketball league when there’s such a gap between RPI and postseason success.
Don’t you guys want to talk about anything fun?
You guys, I don’t like “Dean Wolf.”
I freaking LOVE Dean Wolf.
In many ways it’s the perfect nickname: self-aware while hyperbolic, easily identifiable, easily lending itself to memes:
What’s not to like?
OK, the rest of the 10 best nicknames of my lifetime, and I say all this with the belief that the best nicknames are old nicknames, like Crazy Legs Hirsch and Three Finger Brown the Steel Curtain.
10. Magic Johnson. This is either way too low, or cheating, because the man’s name is Magic.
9. White Chocolate. There was a five-year stretch where nobody could make a behind the back pass in the suburbs without someone yelling White Chocolate.
8. The Big Unit. At some point, that’s all you called him. Unit. Much more fitting than “Randy.”
7. Prime Time. Mostly because of the way they all said his name on the highlight show.
6. Butterbean. You don’t even know what the man’s real name is, do you?
5. Big Papi. Sort of like the Unit, in that it’s pretty remarkable when you get a nickname that so fits a Hall of Famer that you rarely use the name his mom gave him.
4. Run TMC. This one’s personal. That Warriors team, as much as any other, made me love basketball. I know. Very random.
3. Iron Mike Tyson. Mostly because it makes me think of the video game.
2. The Nature Boy. I’m not even a wrestling guy, but WOOOO! Also, if you haven’t seen it, the 30 for 30, it’s incredible.
1. Fridge. The first nickname I was aware of and understood as a kid, and bonus points for the 335 pounds he played at now being Dontari Poe after a three week fast.
No. We cannot agree on this.
The worst part of having kids is the sleep, man. I know this is like the ultimate parent cliche, but sleep deprivation is LITERALLY a form of torture, which means 100 percent of babies and toddlers torture their parents.
Honestly, I’m incapable of even joking about this. Dirty diapers, macaroni and cheese shells everywhere, random temper tantrums, living in constant fear of said tantrums, having to say everything six times, and turning into your own parents with lines like “DO YOU WANT TO GO TO YOUR ROOM?!?” — I can deal with all of it. I even laugh at most of it.
But the sleep, you guys. I need the sleep.
Oh, well. It’ll all be worth it when they’re doctors.
I do, actually. But not necessarily the Chiefs.
There was a time I believed the Chiefs were in the path of the storm, but president Mark Donovan and others there handle this with intelligence. They built partnerships with some key Native American groups and, cynically, those partnerships include money and exposure but they also include enough respect and real gestures.
Full disclosure: the tomahawk chop enthusiasm and the CHIEFS at the end of the anthem are, let’s say, an odd juxtaposition from a fan base so vocally offended at Marcus Peters not standing for the anthem but there are a lot of things in this world I don’t fully understand.
The Redskins have always been the biggest target of this movement, and my guess is they change their name at some point.
The Chiefs, at least from my view, have handled this with smarts and planning. Washington, at least from my view, has handled it with stubbornness and righteousness.
Can it be both?
Because, really, I think it’s both.
It is by definition made for TV, and there is no real rivalry between the leagues, even with realignment. If KU and Kentucky aren’t playing there isn’t going to be a must-see game.
But, well, it’s also compelling.
Some of this I compare to the conversation around interleague play in baseball. People love to say, “Yeah, does anyone really care about Marlins-Orioles?” But that misses the point, because you might be getting Marlins-Orioles instead of Marlins-Giants or Mariners-Orioles and at that point what’s the difference?
So, we can sit here and talk about Arkansas-Oklahoma State, or Vanderbilt-TCU, and I agree, who really cares? But would you care any more or less about Arkansas-Vanderbilt? Or Oklahoma State-TCU?
Probably not. But Kentucky at West Virginia was fun, and Texas Tech-South Carolina had some moments.
I love college basketball, and I love conference games, but at some point it does become a little monotonous. This team of year, sure, why not break it up with one weekend of different matchups?
I believe it helps, and for a few reasons.
First, the reason they’re in all these close games isn’t that they’re simply not putting teams away. It’s that they can’t put teams away, because they’re not overwhelmingly talented.
This was always going to be a team that had to win close games, especially with execution and making the right play, and that’s exactly what they’ve done. Their late game basketball IQ is really astounding, probably more impressive the more you watch games from around the country.
Some of that is how they’re built. Devonte Graham is a senior point guard, a three-year starter, paired with senior Svi Mykhailiuk. That’s a pretty good place to start. Bill Self gives his teams a four- or six-point cushion most nights with lobs out of timeouts, and the more they win close games the more they expect to win close games.
That stuff has to matter.
I also don’t believe much in the “too many minutes” thing. Self is giving his guys more rest during the week, which is fine, but also not new. He and many other coaches routinely taper their guys this time of year.
Graham is basically playing all the minutes, and it’s impossible not to wonder if that had something to do with a recent slump* but he’s also a 22 year old college athlete in top shape. NCAA Tournament games have longer breaks, with more adrenaline. There are no perfect scenarios, but a lot of teams would love to have KU’s “problem” here.
* Most notably the 4-for-19 at Norman while chasing Trae Young on defense.
Now, all that said, the most likely downfall of this team in the tournament figures to be a lack of depth inside or the reliance upon outside shooting.
Mahomes, and that’s even with his expectations higher than Mondesi’s.
You guys, the Royals just guaranteed Alcides Escobar $2.5 million because they don’t trust Raul Mondesi a year after giving him an opening day job at second base.
That’s un-good. His arrow is pointing down, as Todd Haley might say.
Mondesi is still just 22, and he hit .305/.340/.539 in Omaha last year with 21 stolen bases. He’s a terrific athlete, even by big league shortstop standards, so he can absolutely still be a star and it should surprise no one.
But — small sample size, but still — he has 209 big league plate appearances that say he can’t yet hit at the highest level.
Maybe that comes with time, but it still has to come with time.
Mahomes is totally unproven, but the college tape and the Denver game say there’s a star in there.
I am but a man, and I’ve seen the college tape, and I embarrassed myself in the press box after Mahomes made That Throw on the last drive in Denver and I can sit here and believe it when I say there’s ever chance he’ll be a bust because he’s 22 and a football player but I can’t even end the sentence before also saying if I had to bet my own money I’d bet on him being one of the league’s absolute best quarterbacks at some point in his career.
Whew that was a long paragraph.
The other thing to consider here: Mahomes is in a better position to succeed, particularly right away.
Mondesi has to learn to hit big league pitching, which I believe is the toughest thing to do in sports. Mahomes has everything he needs: his own prodigious talent, a star receiver who can put that arm to good use, the league’s second best tight end and a coaching staff knows offense.
This is such a dumb thing to say but it’s how I feel: I expect Mahomes to be the best quarterback the Chiefs have had since Len Dawson.
Mondesi has a chance, but man, he’s had some really bad plate appearances.
This week, I’m particularly thankful for Parents as Teachers. I’d never heard of the organization until a neighbor mentioned it, and this is an invaluable resource for any of us who feel like we’re constantly guessing with how to raise our kids. We have learned a lot, gained confidence, and solved issues quicker and avoided others entirely because of this program. I wish every school district in the area and the country had something similar. Truly, this is the kind of thing that can improve lives.