Don't Kill The Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: Kentucky’s tournament, Royals’ camp and an airing of grievances

Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein was chosen MVP of the Southeastern Conference Tournament after the Wildcats won the title with a 78-63 victory over Arkansas in Nashville, Tenn.
Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein was chosen MVP of the Southeastern Conference Tournament after the Wildcats won the title with a 78-63 victory over Arkansas in Nashville, Tenn. The Associated Press

Pretty boring camp here, and I mean that in the nicest way. The Royals have no major position battles. The roster-spot competition that does have major implications is whether Brandon Finnegan begins the season as a big-league reliever or a minor league starter. Other than that, it’s fairly well set.

Omar Infante’s elbow is hurting. Alex Gordon is working back from a wrist injury. Other than that … not much. I suppose there’s some intrigue about the opening-day starter, and Yordano Ventura should be the guy even with what’s been a fairly rough camp, but these are mostly low-level storylines.

There are a lot of these, but it’s one more sign about the progress the organization has made. They have a roster full of real big leaguers, and some guys who are good enough to play on other teams will be in Omaha. These are good problems. The Royals have had more than enough years of bad problems, of course.

This week’s reading recommendation is Matt Norlander on the amazing survival story of a former Butler basketball player, and the eating recommendation is the pimento cheese sandwich at Char Bar.

Kentucky.

No matter what, this tournament will be about Kentucky. If they win, the case will be made that this is the best college basketball team ever, and even if I believe they would lose to the 2012 team^, a 40-0 record and a national championship would be like the ultimate scoreboard argument.

^ Anthony Davis was the best player in the country that year, without a doubt, but that team also had Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (the second pick in the draft that year), Terrence Jones (who came back to school after scoring 15.7 points per game the year before), Marquis Teague (a fourth first-round pick that year), and even a senior who played in Darius Miller^^.

^^ I remember a stat that he had, like, 42 teammates at Kentucky in four years.

On the other hand, if they lose — and I would absolutely take the field, and actually have in a cigar bet with a friend — the talk will be about OMG KENTUCKY LOST. People will jump on John Calipari, even if he’s come as close to mastering modern college basketball as a man could come, and a lot of schadenfreude would be flowing Kentucky’s way.

Either way, it’s absolutely the story of the tournament.

Depends on what you do, and what kind of relationship you have with your boss. I’m a dreamer, but I choose to believe that we live in a world where a boss would give a knowing smile and wink when hearing that an employee won’t be showing up at the office this Thursday and Friday.

But short of that, I don’t know, I’m probably a terrible person to ask about this for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that by definition I can never do what you’re trying to do, and also because there is literal record of what I do^ and also because I’m not only a pretty bad liar but in a situation like that would be so nervous about my boss walking in or something that I wouldn’t have any fun anyway.

^ Sometimes I wish there wasn’t.

So, sorry, man. Can you say you have a meeting out of the office? But, also, are you SURE your boss wouldn’t just think it was funny if he or she knew you were at the bar?

Glad you asked!

The Big 12 has been bragging all year about being No. 1 in the RPI rankings, and it is absolutely time to back that up. I happen to think that KU is very matchup-dependent and has a terrible draw, so I’m not too optimistic there. I adore the way Iowa State plays, and think their draw is fairly favorable, but I’m skeptical about teams that are mediocre defensively and rely so much on outside shooting. Those are hard things to keep up. I do like Oklahoma’s profile: hard defending, a guy who can get points against good defense, and perhaps a new motivation.

But, whatever, we’re all guessing about these matchups and who will advance.

I do think that if the Big 12 doesn’t get at least three teams into the second weekend, two in regional finals, or one in the Final Four there will be some room for justified criticism on the league. There is so much talk about how good the coaches are in this league, and the resumes are impressive, but fair or not college basketball is largely judged on this month.

I don’t know if you mean in terms of the actual basketball or the storyline, but it’d be a hell of a lot of fun.

I don’t think there’s a lot of love between the coaches, and Wichita State has been pushing for this game for long enough that there would be a lot of local buildup. There is no telling how healthy KU will be, most notably Perry Ellis’ knee, but Wichita State will have the advantage on the perimeter and with experience. That team is incredibly underseeded, and would be playing with a purpose bigger than a basketball game.

I think the Shockers would win — and I say that as someone who has generally been higher on this KU team than most — but, obviously, we’re all guessing.

We all have choices in this life, and I’m not here to tell anyone how to enjoy their sports. If you have more fun not filling out a bracket, that’s great, don’t fill out a bracket. The tradeoff seems to be a closer connection to the games and a rooting interest with a bracket vs. a freer mind to enjoy the games if you fill out a bracket.

This is obviously a close cousin to betting on games, or what having a fantasy football team does to rooting for your favorite NFL team. This is a lot like any other personal decision in life. You have to know yourself. I wish you nothing but happiness and contentment in your decision.

Me, I’ve long been on Team Fill Out A Bracket But Know It’s Terrible And Enjoy The Games.

It’s really weird, actually. I’m still a little bit curious if that all happened in October, and we’re all just waiting to hear that the Dodgers beat the Tigers in the World Series or something.

Sort of to that point, it’s interesting to see the little ways that this team is run so differently now. Like, I was talking with a personnel evaluator today who was saying that Whit Merrifield is a guy who would probably get a chance in the big leagues with some teams. Merrifield just turned 26, and last year hit .340 in 76 games in Omaha.

“Yeah,” I said. “A few years back, Whit Merrifield was Kila Ka’aihue.”

But the point is that the Royals’ recent history is filled with sorry teams that would be talking themselves into believing that Merrifield could hit .300 in the big leagues, instead of being patient and making him prove it.

The flip side of that, of course, is that if the Royals were still bad they wouldn’t be tempted to make a bad decision and turn Brandon Finnegan into a relief pitcher.

You know I would never claim to be Terez, but the short list is Sal Perez transferring into a throw, Alex Gordon chasing a ball down the line and trying to cut someone down at second, Lorenzo Cain chasing in the gap, Alcides Escobar up the middle, Eric Hosmer when he shows that opposite-field power, Yordano Ventura’s fastball, Greg Holland’s breaking pitches, and pretty much anything Wade Davis does. Also, Terrence Gore stealing a base, because it looks fake, but now might be a good time to remind people that he hit .221/.289/.257 in 313 minor-league plate appearances last year.

It’s not a bad list, actually, and I haven’t even gotten to Ned Yost answering a question he doesn’t like.

I’m tentatively hoping — is that enough wiggle room? — to have this up by next week, and I hope my guy at Challenge Builder is willing to help us out again this year because I assume we’ll have more interest than ever.

I actually think Ventura/Duffy combined starts or innings might be a better category, but whatever, you asked, so I’ll say 22? They had 23 last year, and just judging on ERA, Duffy deserved a few more, so maybe this is a bad number but pitcher wins confuse me.

Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera pitched a combined 204 1/3 innings last year — with a combined 1.28 ERA, by the way, and 258 strikeouts and 69 walks which is all kinds of silly — which is the top end of what the Royals probably want to see. I feel like 199 2/3 innings would be a good number.

But, hell, since we’re already talking about it please feel free to let me know some categories you’d like. Total Gold Gloves, Ventura strikeouts, Sal Perez starts, Mike Moustakas home runs, Eric Hosmer OPS, playoff games … what else?

So here’s the video, and I’m told this is a professional boxer named Travis Hartman, who is dating a tennis player.

I do like seeing professional athletes do physical things completely unrelated to their sport. And, yes, I want a shot at both Hartman and Nadal. And, no, you have no possible response, unless you can get video of you beating Tiger Woods in Golden Tee or something.

So, we’re only talking about four guys here, if we’re counting Ben McLemore, who only played one year but was on campus for two.

Josh Selby is an easy pick for fourth, obviously, and the temptation is to put Joel Embiid at the top but I think the preseason expectations of Andrew Wiggins being the Canadian Michael Jordan and Embiid being at least a two-year project so skewed the way people saw their season at Kansas.

Wiggins shrunk in the Stanford game, and it’s certainly fair to say he could’ve done more at the college level with his enormous talent. But he still scored 17 a game, and was still an all-court player who could affect everything that happened on the basketball. That game at West Virginia was a spectacle.

So I’m going with Wiggins, somewhat narrowly, over Embiid. Then a full step down to Xavier Henry, and then, well, a lot of steps down to Josh Selby.

Whoa.

OK, first, I’m glad you capped it at 30 years. That goes back a bit before I was a conscious sports fan, but not as much as I’d like. So, 30 years. That leaves out Pete Maravich — WHO AVERAGED 44 POINTS PER GAME — among others, but I like where your head is at here.

It’s also important to establish some guidelines here. In this, I’m biased toward players who stick around more than a year, who are remembered more for their college career than NBA, and who have something special beyond stats to remember them by. Also, if I’m being honest, I probably suffer a bit from whatever is the opposite of a recency bias.

Anyway, here we go…

5. Tyler Hansbrough. He will be the most recent player on this list, and in the modern era is an incredibly rare four-year star. Did you realize he scored 18.9 points per game as a freshman? That’s more than Andrew Wiggins. He also had the Psycho T thing, was a four-time All-ACC guy, national player of the year, the ACC’s all-time leading scorer, and won a national championship.

4. Hank Gathers. Led the nation in both scoring and rebounding, and played on some of the most entertaining teams I can remember. His death is an absolute tragedy, and it sparked Bo Kimble’s amazing left-handed free-throw tribute. I don’t know that sports fans who saw it happen in real time will ever forget it.

3. Danny Manning. Scored 2,951 points with 1,187 rebounds, capped by one of the all-time one-man show national championships in the sport’s history as a senior. Pretty decent.

2. Len Bias. I’m stretching the boundaries of your 30-year limitation a bit here, because Bias started his career at Maryland in 1982 and played through 1986, but I feel like that counts. I also should admit up front here that I’m absolutely being swayed by stories I’ve heard and read and watched, because I honestly don’t remember him playing. But it sure seems like there are a load of people who say he was the best player they ever faced, or saw, and, well, I told you I come with certain biases here.

1. Christian Laettner. I haven’t had a chance to see the ESPN show on him, but I’ve always thought of him as the best college basketball player of my lifetime. I know he played with great players, most notably Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley, but he played in four Final Fours, was the best player on two national title teams, and hit what is probably the most famous shot in the last 30 years of college basketball. Bonus points for being the subject of the first bet I remember making and winning with my dad: that Shaquille O’Neal would be a better pro. My dad doesn’t watch much NBA.

If I’m being completely honest here, I would probably pretend that a place that calls itself “Chicken Macaroni & Cheese” is better than it actually is just based on having the greatest name in the history of restaurants, but I have to say: if it was named Fred’s or Restaurant or Don’t Come Here The Food Sucks, it is still more than good enough to stand on its own merits.

But I do want to give them some particular credit for their name, because it’s just genius. You don’t walk into that place and ask anyone what’s good.

Well, I think *this* is too soon. I know I come at this with a pro-Kim bias, because I believe he’s a good coach, and he worked his way up, and is generally the kind of person we should all hope is successful. I also know that setting a school record for losses in your first year — he lost more games in his first year at Mizzou than he did his last three years at Central Missouri OR his last three years playing at Mizzou — is no way to start.

Whoever the coach was for Mizzou this past year was set up to fail, so I don’t think that should be held against him, but it’s still on his record and it certainly doesn’t help that the guy who hired him is retiring. I do think that Kim has more protection than other coaches who might be in his situation, just because he is such a Mizzou guy, and there is an institutional buy-in to help him succeed.

I’m not sure what the threshold is for progress in this upcoming season, but I do think an NIT berth would at least show some improvement. The SEC is a bad league; you should be able to make progress relatively quickly. But the whole thing with Kim will be how well he can recruit, and with that said, I just can’t imagine a scenario where it’s fair to fire him before at LEAST two or three more years to see how he does in that regard.

Well, fine, I’ll bite. Please send all hate mail to rmcullough@kcstar.com.

Royals: David Glass is not a miserly scrooge. Stop saying that. It is no longer 2004. Your team is bottom five or so in revenue, and 15th in payroll. Also, the Royals bunted at a league-average rate last year. Stop saying Ned lusts for the bunt.

Chiefs: Stop committing violent or obscene acts in the stadium. Arrowhead is a great place, with eight — err, seven — incredible parties every fall. But it also has a reputation for unnecessary ugliness from some fans. It’s a very small minority to blame, but still. Stop that.

Sporting KC: Soccer is not some cool little bar that only you know about, a place to go and talk about the rubes who are at McFadden’s or whatever. You are not an indie band. Your sport is mainstream. Accept it. It’s fun.

Kansas: For having a badass basketball program, too many of you are on the extremes of either arrogance or insecurity about it. Too many of you think a team that won the nation’s deepest league and has a No. 2 seed stinks. Also, care more about football.

K-State: You actually don’t have to boo uncontrollably at every call in a basketball game. That’s not a rule. And too many of you acted like Jim Mora accosted Bill Snyder after the Alamo Bowl. He did no such thing, and pretending otherwise makes you look silly.

Missouri: Lighten up. I know some of the defeatism comes naturally, with deep flesh wounds like the flea kicker and the fifth down and Tyus Edney, but you also won the most important moment your athletic program has had in the last generation. You transitioned to the SEC, and are more than holding your own. Enjoy it.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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