Don't Kill The Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: Big 12 failure, Royals insurance, and ranking KU’s NCAA Tournament losses

Rick Barnes reached the NCAA Tournament in 16 out of 17 years during his time as Texas coach.
Rick Barnes reached the NCAA Tournament in 16 out of 17 years during his time as Texas coach. KansasCity

Rick Barnes is probably going to be remembered as a failure at Texas, which is both the way of the world and more than a little unfair.

He was there for 17 years, pushing the basketball program to its longest string of success. In 2003, Barnes and T.J. Ford made Texas’ first Final Four since 1947. Kevin Durant is probably the best player in program history. Barnes also recruited Ford, LaMarcus Aldridge, D.J. Augustin, and Chris Mihm.

In the 17 years before Barnes took over, the Longhorns made eight NCAA Tournaments and had five losing seasons. In Barnes’ 17 years, the Longhorns made 16 NCAA Tournaments and had one losing season.

But times change, and as Texas’ revenue advantage climbed so did fair expectations. It was probably time for a different voice at Texas. Seventeen years is a long time. But Barnes leaves the program in better shape than he found it, and here’s hoping Texas is successful in hiring Shaka Smart or Gregg Marshall. The Big 12 could use the injection.

It’s a terrific job, Texas. I’m not sure there is a better non-blueblood job in the country, and in some ways it might be a better job than a place like Kentucky or Kansas or North Carolina. Texas has more money than anybody, a good local recruiting base, and true national-championship possibilities without the harsh national-championship demands of the historical powers.

It would be good for college basketball, and the Big 12 in particular, if Texas’ next coach is able to make that next step that Barnes couldn’t stick. Everything a coach needs is right there.

This week’s reading recommendation is this thoughtful piece by Holly Anderson about domestic violence, and the eating recommendation is the pub nachos at Barrell 31.

If you haven’t already, you should enter the DKTM Royals Over-Under contest. It’s free, and you could win food.

As always, thanks for reading and thanks for your help.

It’s an interesting question, and I guess the answer depends a bit on interpretation. It’s a strange thing that Edinson Volquez is 31 years old, made his big league debut almost a full ten years ago, and he still might be the hardest of the Royals’ five starting pitchers to project.

If he’s what he was last year for the Pirates, he might be the Royals’ best starter — a 3.04 ERA over 192 2/3 innings. But he was also cut by the Padres two years ago, so, you know. There’s that.

If you’re asking me to bet who the least productive starting pitcher will be this year — and, speaking of predictions, you should enter the DKTM Royals Over-Under — Volquez would probably be my guy. That is in some ways a compliment to where the Royals are, because there are teams in the not-to-distant past where Volquez would be the opening day starter^.

^ Like this one. Or this one. Or this one. Or DEFINITELY this one.

Jeremy Guthrie is the other guy you might think about here, but I feel like Guthrie is more of a known commodity. You know what you’re going to get with him, which is a baseline of performance at or just below league average.

There are questions about how Volquez will adjust to the American League, and adjust to a new catcher. In certain baseball circles, Russell Martin gets a lot of credit for Volquez’s rebirth — and nice new contract — both for bringing out the best in him mentally, and for being a spectacular pitch framer. Sal Perez, at least according to this, is not a good pitch framer.

Either way, it is a bit striking that the Royals have five entirely competent big-league starting pitchers in their rotation. It sounds like a simple thing, but there are a lot of teams who are particularly weak at the back. There’s profit to be made there.

Good follow up here. Chris Young would be the first one, and the Royals made that clear when they signed him and immediately announced he would make the big-league roster. I thought it was a terrific signing by the Royals, the type of low-risk insurance policy that any big-league team needs. It was probably more important for the Royals than most, because Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy each carry some heightened injury risk.

Young, of course, carries his own injury history, but he’s a terrific fit for the Royals and Kauffman Stadium — an extreme flyball pitcher who doesn’t strike out many, meaning he relies heavily on his defense. He was great in Seattle last year, which also has a big home ballpark.

Kris Medlen is scheduled to be ready at some point this summer and is another intriguing insurance policy, but one with more upside and more unknowns. The Royals are hoping Medlen can be ready to pitch by late June or July.

Finnegan might be the third guy, though it’s easy to forget that he’s still less than a year removed from being drafted. He’s started 10 professional games, including exactly zero above Class A Wilmington. He needs to develop a third pitch, and work on all the mental and emotional parts of adjusting from college to being a starter in the big leagues.

But there’s a reason I’m including this question so high here. The Royals were remarkably healthy last year, including near-misses when Ventura (elbow) and Duffy (shoulder) walked off the mound holding body parts. As it worked out, the Royals needed only 11 starts from guys outside their top five.

Teams are rarely that healthy two years in a row.

The Chiefs need to draft whoever they think can help them the most. That’s the boring answer, and of course there are some disclaimers here. They don’t need a pass rusher, for instance.

But part of the attraction of signing Jeremy Maclin is that it frees the Chiefs from needing to take a receiver with the first pick. They still need to add at least one more receiver, be it in the draft or other measures, but they don’t have to do it with the first pick.

They’ve been improving along the offensive line, and the Ron Parker signing has been somewhat overlooked. Particularly with Eric Berry’s status so uncertain — you probably noticed that John Dorsey says they expect Parker to play safety — that was an important move to maintain stability.

It’s March 31, so whatever, but it’s really easy to see how the Chiefs can make a jump back into the playoffs. Feeling 11-5-ish at the moment.

The point is that you save guys from making bad choices. That was one of the problems when the NBA was drafting high school kids. Some of them turn out to be Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett, but others turn out to be Korleone Young or Jonathan Bender.

The one-and-done rule is better than what it was like before, but there are better alternatives than what we have right now. The baseball model is popular, where guys are free to go pro out of high school but have to stay for three years if they go to college.

I’ve always thought there’s a better solution if people are willing to get creative. I think there’s a way to address keeping kids in college AND letting them share in the billions of dollars being created.

Because, here’s the bigger reality: The longer kids stay in school, the better it is for the NBA (drafts better, more skilled, more marketable players) and college basketball (obvious reasons). We just have to make it better for the athletes.

You’re never going to match the NBA’s pay for college kids, obviously, but you can work out a system where guys are incentivized to stick around. You can build it around some combination of academic progress and professional potential. That way the ones who stick around are doing it because they want to, not because they have to.

But, anyway, I’m rambling. Your question was about Myles Turner. As it turned out, there was no reason for him to go to college. But the NBA has its rule, and I do hope it’s improved soon.

Well, he’s definitely successful.

Eleven straight conference titles, a national championship, and another Final Four make for success. The question, I suppose, is whether he’s successful enough for his $50 million contract and the advantages that come with coaching at Kansas. To me, Self has elevated the success and standards from the Roy Williams years, which is no small thing. He has, and spoiler alert, this is the last line of the column from the other day, built a program where a league title and a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament can happen in a down year.

There is so much reaction and opinion to be had out there, and gauging these things is always dangerous, but a lot of the criticism being thrown at Self feels like the kind of criticism that should be saved for if KU is like a No. 6 seed, or loses a 2-15 game, something like that. KU had a team nobody thought would make the Final Four. It won the conference and lost to a program that’s made a Final Four and gone 35-1 in the last two years in a game that Vegas made it a betting underdog.

But, whatever, this isn’t really a defense of Self or KU but it just came to my mind so here goes: I actually don’t think the loss to Wichita State is all that bad. KU was a relatively weak No. 2 seed. Wichita was significantly underseeded. I don’t know anybody who thought this KU team was headed to the Final Four, but I guess now that I say this I should rank Self’s NCAA Tournament losses from least-worst to most-worst:

11. Kentucky, national final, 2012 — I still say that Kentucky team could beat this year’s version. Either way, there was no way KU was going to beat that bunch of freaks, and making it to the national-championship game was a hell of an accomplishment.

10. Michigan State, Sweet 16, 2009 — KU lost to a better team here, and had overachieved winning the conference and 27 games after replacing all five starters from the national-title team.

9. Georgia Tech, Elite 8, 2004 — Self’s first year. Any overtime loss is marked with missed opportunities, and there are KU fans who still talk about Keith Langford fouling out on a bad call, but whatever.

8. UCLA, Elite 8, 2007 — I can’t get over this: Russell Westbrook played five minutes in this game. And, not because of foul trouble or injury or anything. But because Russell Westbrook only played like five minutes a game when he was a freshman at UCLA.

7. Wichita State, round of 32, 2015 — I’m sure this is way lower than most people would have it. But there are a lot of bad losses to choose from here, and there’s a reason Wichita State was the betting favorite on the day of the game.

6. Michigan, Sweet 16, 2013 — The Elijah Johnson Game. Made worse because Florida, which lost by 20 to Michigan in the Elite 8, was ready to lose. KU was a No. 1 seed. Should’ve been a Final Four.

5. Bradley, round of 64, 2006 — Also probably lower than some would have, because it was in the first round, but this was a No. 4 seed and a team full of freshmen. It’s embarrassing to lose in the first round, but considering the context I think the next four are worse.

4. Stanford, round of 32, 2014 — This is the hardest one to rank, I think. Joel Embiid being hurt made this unlike the typical No. 2 seed losing, but the fact that he likely could’ve played in the second weekend — where KU would’ve played No. 11 seed Dayton, and then No. 1 seed Florida — makes it worse. Andrew Wiggins disappeared, and he was the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.

3. Northern Iowa, round of 32, 2010 — KU didn’t take this game as seriously as it should’ve, and Ali Farokhmanesh hit a completely ballsy shot — and later interviewed KU fans about it — and then it was all regrets.

2. VCU, Elite 8, 2011 — This was the best (or, at least, most-talented) KU team other than the 2008 title team. And it lost to a No. 11 seed. After some amount of trash talk. With a choke. They hit two of 21 three-pointers — and Tyrel Reed, mentioned a few questions back as a guy KU needed to be successful, hit one of seven — and just 15 of 28 free throws and Markieff Morris turned it over eight times. The Jayhawks had such an easy road to the Final Four here, and they blew it. Just blew it.

1. Bucknell, round of 64, 2005 — This was a failure on a bunch of levels. Most notably it was a team loaded with seniors losing to a team that just based on name recognition you figure should lose by 21.

Not sure what the point of that was. But, then again, I’m not sure the point of Twitter Tuesday has ever been to have a point.

But, in the spirit of what we’ve got going here, it does lead into another interesting question…

…so, over the course of their careers, Izzo has a much better NCAA Tournament record than Self, though even with this year’s Final Four, their records over the last decade are very similar:

Six Sweet 16s, three Final Fours, no titles, 23 total wins for Izzo.

Six Sweet 16s, two Final Fours, one title, 23 total wins for Self.

The big difference, of course, is in regular-season performance and NCAA Tournament seeding. Nobody regularly outplays their seeding like Michigan State. This really is pretty crazy. In the last decade, the Spartans’ average seeding is 5.7. Over that same time, Kansas has been seeded first five times, second three times, third twice, fourth once, and never worse.

Self is eight years younger than Izzo, which matters, so if you could promise me that this would be his last coaching job I’d take Self. But I think he’s going to the NBA eventually, and I feel like Izzo had his big NBA flirtation last summer and will now retire at Michigan State. Self has been a better recruiter at Kansas (and Illinois) than Izzo has been at Michigan State, but it’s also true that it’s easier to recruit at Kansas.

It’s obviously very close, and I guess what it comes down to in large part is expectation. Self’s teams have been regularly terrific in the regular season, which builds up expectation. Izzo’s teams have often muddied their way through the regular season, which means tournament wins are celebrated a little more.

I know the easy answer, especially right now, is Izzo but I’d take Self based on age and recruiting, with the theory that when you have better talent you should be able to have better teams.

I can’t remember what it was for, but I do remember trying to get an interview with Bill Clinton once. Didn’t take. The other side of the answer is probably more interesting, and I actually have two here.

When I was in high school, I worked at the local paper, and basically did whatever the people who got paid there did not want to do. That included this “On The Street” thing where you’d come up with a question and find four random strangers to answer, with their picture, name, and I think maybe age and occupation. When you think about it, it’s not a tiny invasion of privacy. But a job is a job, so I did it, and it is still the most miserable experience I’ve had in journalism. I was probably turned down at least twice for every yes, including by many who thought I was hitting on them — men and women.

The other one I remember was a tennis player at Blue Valley … Northwest, I think. This was my first year at The Star, and I had the high-profile EKL beat. I was working on the much-anticipated boys tennis preview, and decided I’d go the extra mile and do the interview in person, rather than on the phone. So I go to practice, and I’m waiting around for probably a half-hour for the thing to end. The coach sees me, we nod at each other.

When the practice is over, this kid — I think he was honorable mention All-EKL the year before, so I’m sure he was tired of the paparazzi — just starts walking the other way to his car. The coach comes over and tells me, “Fred^ isn’t talking today.”

^ I can’t remember the punk kid’s real name.

There are moments you start to wonder what the heck you’re doing with your life, is what I’m trying to tell you.

I never have been, and I’ll tell you why. First, you’re buying too much beer for one sitting but because of the container it always feels like you’re going to lose freshness somehow. Those things are hard to clean, too, and I never think the beer tastes like it should.

I also have this weird thing where I don’t like to drink the same drink or beer twice in a row. I know. It’s stupid. But with a growler, it feels like you’re on a time crunch to slam the beer before it goes stale.

On the other hand…

…I am way more excited about this than I should be. I am staunchly in Team Cans, for a lot of reasons. Our neighborhood trash collector doesn’t take glass, for one, so cans are a lot easier to dispose of. I also like that they tend to fit in koozies a little better, they’re easier to organize in the fridge, and — pro tip here — I like to make a little thumb indention at the top of the can to remember which one is mine.

Really, the only advantage for the bottle is that we have one of those wall-mounted bottle openers, which because I’m a child I think is fun to use, with the sound of the bottle opening and then the cap dropping into the little tray. It’s the little things, you guys.

Well, don’t mind if I do.

I have no idea about next year, and I don’t think anyone else does, either. On paper, it doesn’t look good. Justin Edwards is the leading returning scorer, and he averaged 6.3 points. There’s room for him and Wesley Iwundu to take on bigger roles, but it’s so hard to project what freshmen are going to be like — they’re all three-star recruits, according to Rivals — which is part of why I’d be surprised if K-State wasn’t picked in the bottom three of the conference next year.

The recruiting class got a bit more interesting this week with a commitment from a juco point guard named Corlbe Ervin, who averaged 15.9 points, 8.3 assists and 6.1 rebounds this past season.

My hunch is that K-State will lose a lot of games next year, and that Bruce Weber’s case for progress will be based on a young roster hopefully improving over the course of the season.

True story. My wife bought six (6) bags of Starburst jelly beans last weekend. I got home from Omaha very early Monday morning. There were no jelly beans in my house by Thursday afternoon.

I suppose we all have our weaknesses, but this one is particularly annoying to me because I know how it’s going to make me feel. My teeth are going to feel like they’re rotting, my stomach is going to hurt, and I’m just going to be disappointed in myself, that I have no self-control around jelly beans, and know that I ate myself sick, again, like a dog.

It’s like, at some point in my binging, I actually think I’m doing myself a favor. Like if I just grab a fistful now I can get these jelly beans gone and not have to worry about them later.

Well, that’s incredible. And awful.

I do have to admit that when I wrote the thing about the Big 12 needing to back up its season-long RPI talking point, I did not think the NCAA Tournament would turn into such a colossal failure for the league. I didn’t think the league would live up to its RPI ranking, but I also did not think it would basically show itself to be the Southland Conference, either.

What the Big 12 did in this tournament was a step beyond normal failure. It’s the kind of thing that will live with the league for a while, I think, to the point where if it happens to be first or second or even third in the RPI rankings next year it will be greeted with more mockery than respect.

The Big 12 earned its way to this point, not just with the failure of this year’s tournament, but a long history of underperformance in the postseason. It’s up to the rich and famous coaches the league is always bragging on to change the story.

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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