Don't Kill The Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: My lawn and Big 12 basketball, Kansas and the Shockers

Kansas guard Frank Mason (0) leans over after fouling out as guard Brannen Greene and forward Perry Ellis walk toward the bench in the second half during Sunday's NCAA tournament basketball game against Wichita State on March 22, 2015 in Omaha, Neb.
Kansas guard Frank Mason (0) leans over after fouling out as guard Brannen Greene and forward Perry Ellis walk toward the bench in the second half during Sunday's NCAA tournament basketball game against Wichita State on March 22, 2015 in Omaha, Neb. The Kansas City Star

My lawn is pretty terrible, if you must know. There are random spots of dirt and other stretches where the grass is brown for no apparent reason, like someone spray-painted chunks of grass to make it look like sand. I’m going to re-seed it soon. Fertilizer, too. It’s sad, because the first summer we lived in this house the lawn was pretty decent. I’m hoping for a comeback, but I’m not entirely optimistic and this all comes up for two reasons.

First, if any of you have advice, don’t be shy.

Second, my lawn reminds me of Big 12 basketball.

The conference’s famous coaches did a lot of bragging about the league’s RPI ranking this year, which they had to know needed to be backed up in the NCAA Tournament. And, so far, it’s hard to imagine things going much worse for the league.

Baylor blew what should’ve been an un-blowable lead to Georgia State. Iowa State lost to UAB. Kansas got pushed around by Wichita. Texas and Oklahoma State made quick exits.

The Sweet 16 includes only two Big 12 teams. I wrote in that column that the Big 12 needed to get at least three, and maybe four teams through the first weekend to back up what had been said. The league failed that fairly spectacularly, though I suppose there is a chance to salvage if someone gets through to the Final Four.

West Virginia plays Kentucky, and Oklahoma plays Michigan State. Bob Huggins actually has a very good record against John Calipari, and Oklahoma has some nice pieces, but it’s hard to be too excited about either team’s outlook.

Much like my lawn.

The eating recommendation is the french toast at Westside Local, and the reading recommendation is the Cincinnati Enquirer’s three-piece project on Pete Rose after the hit king applied for reinstatement to baseball.

The people are displeased, you guys.

Very displeased.

You need good players to win championships. At least some of KU’s issues this year can be tied to Cliff Alexander not developing as quickly as possible (and the eligibility drama), Kelly Oubre’s inconsistencies, and even the hole in the roster when Joel Embiid went pro at least a year earlier than KU’s coaches expected when he signed.

But Oubre was also KU’s best player at times, and certainly its most talented player, so I’m not sure how fair it is to blame him. Perry Ellis’ knee didn’t help, and neither did Wayne Selden’s development.

Blaming the one-and-done thing is too easy, I think, and reactionary. Bill Self and any other coach at a program with access to the best recruits is negligent if he does not try to sign the best players he can. You need a mix, and Self has done a good job here of getting two- or three-year players like the Morris twins, Mario Chalmers, Cole Aldrich, and, this is a topic for another day, perhaps Ellis.

But if you have the chance to get high-end talent, you have to do it. One of the most valuable commodities in college basketball is a guy who can score when the offensive set breaks down. Usually, those are guys who aren’t sticking around college for long.

There is also something to be said here that you don’t always know who’s going to be one-and-done. Brandon Rush thought he was a one-year player. He stayed three. The coaches thought Joel Embiid was a two- or three-year guy. He stayed one.

You don’t need to chase talent, regardless of circumstance. But if you see a guy you think fits your program, you’re going to get fired if you pass on him just because he won’t give a speech on Senior Night.

Eh, depends on how we’re judging.

Let’s look at the last decade, with the coaches I think a lot of us would say are the best in the game over that time.

Bill Self: 10 appearances, six Sweet 16s, two Final Fours, one championship, 23 total wins.

Mike Krzyzewski^: 10 appearances, six Sweet 16s, one Final Four, one championship, 18 total wins.

John Calipari^: eight appearances, eight Sweet 16s, four Final Fours, one championship, 31 total wins^^.

Roy Williams^: nine appearances, six Sweet 16s, two Final Fours, one championship, 24 total wins.

Tom Izzo^: 10 appearances, seven Sweet 16s, two Final Fours, no championships, 21 total wins.

^ Obviously, these guys can add to their numbers this weekend and next. The numbers I’m listing include this year’s Sweet 16s and wins, but obviously not the Final Fours or titles.

^^ No, I’m not going to take away vacated wins. You can do that if you want. I know who won the games.

So, at least by this measurement, Self is comparable to the others you would consider the best coaches in college basketball. Calipari has mastered modern college basketball, and even missing out on two tournaments is a step above the others on this list.

But after that, they’re all within one Sweet 16, one Final Four, and one title of each other. I guess part of the point here is that the NCAA Tournament is far more random that we sometimes allow ourselves to think, and part of the point is that when you follow one team specifically it’s easy to think the highs and lows are better and worse than they actually are in context.

None of this is meant to say that Self’s teams haven’t underachieved too many times in the tournament. KU has had higher seeds more often than most programs, so if went through and picked out how often a program advances to its seed, the results might be different. When you have a $50 million contract to coach college basketball, the standards can be unfair without actually being unfair, if you know what I mean.

Self deserves tremendous credit for winning 11 consecutive conference championships. It is a truly remarkable achievement, a proven consistency in a sport that all but requires inconsistency.

But it’s also true that his teams could’ve had more tournament success, and this would be true even without the loss to Wichita (a really good team) or even Stanford last year (when Joel Embiid was hurt). I thought his guys shrunk in the moment of the VCU and Michigan losses, and were surprised when Northern Iowa punched back, for instance.

Could be soon. I think a few things here. First, Marshall is establishing himself to a level where he doesn’t need to chase a job. I don’t think he’ll retire from coaching at Wichita, but I do think he’s at the point where the next job he takes could be the one he retires from. This isn’t Mark Turgeon, who left Wichita for Texas A&M, which was a stepping stone to Maryland. It’s also true that Mark Few has proven you can maintain a national power outside the biggest conferences.

But Mark Few is the exception. There are a lot more guys like Bill Self, who could’ve stayed at Tulsa. Or John Calipari, who could’ve stayed at UMass.

Marshall is an interesting case. He has to be the hottest coaching candidate in the country, but his next A.D. is also going to have to account for a notoriously prickly personality and sizable ego, even by major basketball coach standards. He’s a terrific coach, with a bulletproof track record, but there is no such thing as a sure thing.

Texas makes the most sense to me, if they move on Rick Barnes. I’m higher on the Texas job than many, probably, but I see it as a place with national championship possibilities without national championship demands.

There would be an adjustment for Marshall, going from a place where he’s the biggest sports figure in the city to a place where his program ranks behind football, spring football, and football recruiting on the interest level. I’m sure that would bother him, on some levels, like it would anybody. But if he wins like he’s winning at Wichita, that would change soon enough. He’d also have an extra million dollars or so to spend.

Well, yeah, Colon is second on the depth chart. It’s still a leap to expect anything out of Hunter Dozier in the big leagues this year, and I hate to keep bringing up reality, but when Moustakas was the age that Dozier is now (23) he hit 20 homers in the big leagues.

Moustakas is still a good — not great, but definitely good — defensive third baseman and for a team that has chosen to win with defense that’s a critical component of this. He’s 26 years old now, which is far from old, but also past the age where youth is an excuse. There are some mechanical things to clean up, but I think Moose can still be the low-average, mistake hitter he was in 2012 when he hit .242/.296/.412 with 20 homers and 34 doubles.

But your question brings up a good point. The Royals, unlike last year when they had Danny Valencia, do not have an obvious candidate to play third base every day if Moustakas takes another step back.

Then again, I’m not sure how many teams have two big league third basemen.

I assume you know you’re exaggerating to make a point, but there’s a case to be made that this is actually Wichita’s worst team of the last three seasons. I’m playing games with semantics here a bit, but two years ago the Shockers made the Final Four and last year they went 35-1, losing to eventual runner-up Kentucky.

Because this is sports and America and the internet, we can pick out any number of straw men to bat down here. No, Bill Self should not be fired. No, Wichita State is not now the best basketball program in the state. No, Self should not stop recruiting future pros. And, this can’t be said enough, Wichita is not some flukey, plucky little upstart who just got lucky.

And, assuming you meant that this is one of KU’s worst teams with Self, I’ll let that one fly. There’s a good case to be made that this was the worst of the conference title teams. I don’t have the interest or the time to go through that argument right now, but I’ve had the discussion with a few people and the consensus seems to be bottom three.

Also, none of this takes anything away from Wichita. I picked the Shockers to beat KU in my bracket, but going into Sunday I thought it was like a 51-49 game. After watching the game, that sounds entirely silly. I wrote this in the column, but the shame for KU isn’t in losing to Wichita. The shame is in backing down from a fight.

I don’t think losing to Wichita should convince KU to schedule the game, and honestly, I’m not sure I understand the logic of the point.

What happened on Sunday is EXACTLY why KU doesn’t need to play Wichita. What do they get out of losing that game? They get mocked, is what. It’s too easy to go #HotTake and skim off the top of the surface that a program like Kansas should never lose to a program like Wichita, facts be damned, so if KU is going to schedule tough opponents it’s better off scheduling good opponents like Kentucky and Michigan State.

KU usually plays one of the toughest schedules in the country, so it’s not like they back down from a challenge.

Also — and this might be the more important point here — I’m not sure why Wichita would want to schedule the game now. They’ve got scoreboard. They don’t have anything to prove. They’ve dropped the mic.

My wife is a Spartan, so I end up paying a lot more attention to that program than I would otherwise. Izzo is very clearly one of the best coaches in the country, and except for this sort of fleeting two weeks a year where MSU knocks off a higher-seeded team and Izzo does that euphoric gravely voiced postgame interview, is certainly one of the most underrated.

But like we showed a few questions ago, Izzo’s tournament record over the last decade is remarkably similar to Self’s. The biggest difference in tournament performance is expectations, because Izzo has made the Final Four as a No. 2 seed, where KU has lost in the first weekend as a No. 1.

But, the biggest difference overall is the regular season. Specifically, the conference season. In the last decade, Michigan State has finished tied for seventh tied for sixth, tied for fourth and fourth in the Big Ten.

So, I’m taking Self. Honestly, if we factor in age, John Calipari is the only college coach I’d take over Self.

Take this for what it’s worth, but when I talked to Weber for this column, I asked him how sure he was that Marcus Foster would be back next year and Weber acted genuinely surprised that I would even ask. Now that I’m thinking back on it, maybe he thought I was only asking about whether Foster would go pro, but assuming that’s what he’s after he’s probably best off staying at K-State.

If Foster plays to his talents, he can start a career in one year. If he transfers, he’s sitting out a year, which means he’s at least doubling his wait.

There were some pretty interesting quotes in Kellis’ story here off K-State’s season-ending loss, quotes that articulate the unrest that I think we all assumed was with that team all year. Maybe that means some “lesser” talents will leave, but despite a disappointing year I think one of the most important things Weber can do for next year is to keep everyone together.

K-State needs to constantly be in the business of adding talent, not letting talent go. I’ve always been more optimistic about Weber there than what seems like the consensus, but he has to know he can’t have another year like this.

So, as you must know by now, I have a proprietary algorithm to determine all future sports outcomes. I cannot tell you the calculations and information that go into it without killing you, but the Royals have a 37.271 percent chance of making the playoffs. The Chiefs have a 46.013 percent chance.

That means a 17.15 percent chance of both making it.

Boom, math.

We’re going to unleash the Royals Over-Under this week, probably on Thursday, but I can tell you that Rios’ home run total will not be on the list but if it was, it wouldn’t be that high.

Assuming the Royals’ bets on his thumb being completely healed are smart, Rios can be a good player for them, but I don’t know if even the Royals would bet the over on that. Rios is 34, and hasn’t hit more than 20 home runs since he was 31 and playing in tiny U.S. Cellular Field.

If Rios stays healthy, and hits like 15 home runs with 35 doubles I think the Royals would be thrilled.

Is that all we’re giving them now?

They’re off to something of a slow start, though it’s only been three games, and Sporting did get hosed with the non-offiside call in Dallas. I hope nobody’s making any grand judgments either way.

I didn’t see the game this past weekend, obviously, but if Peter Vermes is encouraged by the team creating a few chances then that’s good enough for me this early in the season.

This weekend is an interesting game, not just because it’s being played at Yankee Stadium, but because New York City FC is an expansion team that appears to be on the fast track.

Well, yeah. Pretty much.

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.

  Comments