Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Jackson is good, Swanigan could be a problem, plus K-State, Cuonzo, Royals and Chiefs

KU’s Josh Jackson lets out a yell during the Jayhawks’ torrid second-half run Sunday in Tulsa.
KU’s Josh Jackson lets out a yell during the Jayhawks’ torrid second-half run Sunday in Tulsa. rsugg@kcstar.com

None of the remaining 16 teams in the NCAA Tournament have a better setup than Kansas.

KU plays at the Sprint Center, of course, and while it won’t technically be a home game, there is a big ol’ Jayhawk at midcourt when they play there in December. Kentucky will have a lot of fans in Memphis, but North Carolina is there, too. No team will play in front of a friendlier crowd this week.

Also, Kansas is the only No. 1 or 2 seed left that doesn’t have to worry about another No. 1 or 2 seed. The matchup with Purdue — late enough on Thursday that I really might be able to help put the kids to bed, and then drive down for the game — could be a problem, but matching up with KU presents plenty of problems, too.

It’s somewhat silly to think ahead like this, but the Sweet 16 game would figure to be KU’s toughest of the week. Michigan’s hot, and Oregon’s Dillon Brooks is a basketball killer, but KU will be a deserved favorite against either.

None of this guarantees anything, obviously. Kansas has lost NCAA Tournament games in front of friendly crowds before, and Jayhawks fans probably remember the bracket opening up in 2011, when they lost to VCU in the Elite Eight.

But, you know. Having a setup like this is still nice.

This week’s reading recommendation is Adam Kilgore on Brent Musberger joining his friends in the desert, and the eating recommendation is the pad Thai at Lemongrass.

Please give me a follow on Twitter and Facebook, and as always, thanks for reading, and thanks for your help.

Touched on this a little in the game column, but my goodness, what a talent.

I’m rehashing a line here from that column, but the following absurd statement may actually be true: KU’s Frank Mason is deservedly collecting national player of the year awards, and may not be the best player on his team.

Caleb Swanigan of Purdue is a terrific talent, too. A ferocious rebounder, big body in the middle and an offensive game that stretches out to 20 feet. He’s a problem. But I don’t know that there’s a guy like Jackson in the tournament.

He’s putting in 16.6 points per game (and rising), and is second in rebounds, first in steals and first in blocks. He was supposed to be a crappy three-pointer shooter, but he’s at 38.6 percent on 3’s — and 52.5 percent since Jan. 24 (14 games).

It’s true that Purdue’s size is a bad matchup for Kansas. When Isaac Haas is on the floor, Swanigan is not even the biggest Purdue player. Few teams are better equipped to get Landen Lucas into foul trouble, and getting Landen Lucas off the floor — no offense to Dwight Coleby — is one of the best ways to beat Kansas.

But it’s also true that Kansas’ perimeter skill is a bad matchup for Purdue. Nearly every lineup Kansas plays includes four legitimate scoring threats, and Lucas can get into double figures on posts and putbacks and by taking advantage of help.

But, yeah. Josh Jackson.

The last mock draft I looked at had him going fourth, behind Washington’s Markelle Fultz, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, and Duke’s Jayson Tatum. I haven’t seen Fultz, and the others are obviously great talents, but I’m not sure I wouldn’t take Jackson first overall. He’s going to get stronger, and that shot is going to continue to improve.

Kansas freshman Josh Jackson led all scorers with 23 points in the Jayhawks' 90-70 victory over Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, March 19, 2017, at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

It really is a fascinating basketball matchup. The third game with Iowa State would’ve been great, and the arena would have been unlike virtually any NCAA Tournament game, but I agreed with Steven on the Border Patrol:

This is the better basketball matchup.

There will be moments when Swanigan has to guard Jackson, and vice versa. If I were Bill Self, I’d think about going zone then, to protect Jackson a bit and make sure Lucas was always available to help. But, if I were Bill Self, that would also mean I hated zone defense like a snowman hates the heat.

One of the keys will be how often KU can get into transition. These Jayhawks are exceptionally fast going from defense to offense, even by Self’s standards. Michigan State exaggerated its trend of forgetting about offensive rebounds in exchange for better transition defense, and it worked, at least in some ways.

Purdue could try something similar — KU’s guards are so much faster — but it would negate some of the Boilermakers’ advantage inside.

I think Kansas wins, in large part because of Jackson’s versatility, and that as much as we talk about Lucas getting into foul trouble, Purdue center Isaac Haas is consistently in foul trouble.

But, like I said, fascinating matchup.

Nicely done on the research.

At some point, we’re going to have to have a longer talk about the relationship between Bruce and K-State fans. It’s bad enough that you wonder whether he’d pull a Frank Haith and find a soft landing spot somewhere outside the Power 5.

I asked him if he was 100 percent sure he wanted to be back, and 100 percent sure he would be back. He said the right things, and I believe it’s very likely he’s back, but, again. Just something to think about.

As to your question, that’s what Bruce’s track record says he is. It’s a hard thing. I do think he’s disrespected more than a coach of his overall accomplishments should be, but you can’t make an argument for him as a top-shelf coach, either.

This season was the Bruce-iest, too. He can rightly be proud that a team picked next-to-last in the Big 12 instead made the Tournament, won a game there, and returns an important core of rising juniors.

But anyone can rightly point out that the win was in a play-in, Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson will be hard to replace, and that more importantly, it’s hard to see a team good enough for a top-three or -four conference finish next year.

I know I’ve said this before, but K-State could’ve justifiably fired him after his third season. It would’ve been a bold move, because he won a share of a conference title and made two NCAAs his first two years, but still. A total roster rebuild signaled similar mistakes to what happened at Illinois, and it could’ve been a clean break.

K-State instead did what the vast majority of schools would’ve done, and gave him a chance to build back up. To me, once you do that, you are accepting that the next season will be difficult and expect to win the year after. That’s exactly what’s happened.

The problem becomes one of hope. Cheering for a team you think can get on the right side of the bubble isn’t a whole lot of fun, at least not at a Power 5 school, and not at a Power 5 school that was winning consistently under the last coach, who just happened to beat Duke in the Tournament.

I like Bruce more than most. I think he’s a good man, and a good coach, who needs to win a little more and present himself a lot better.

True-ish.

I like Cuonzo, a lot. I admire the hell of out of him for what he’s been through, and more to the point, I think he’s good at his job. I believe it’s a good hire.

He was always mentioned for the job, and the reasons make so much sense that the point is essentially obvious. He won at Missouri State, took Tennessee to the Sweet 16 through some drama and showed he can land top recruits at Cal. His players love him, and his teams play hard, particularly on defense.

He’s from East St. Louis and maintains a lot of connections and love there, so if he isn’t the one to unlock Mizzou’s recruiting in that city, maybe nobody can.

The best way for this to be awesome is if the Michael Porters come to Mizzou, and nothing’s official, and nobody can be sure, but it does make sense for both sides.

So, yes. I think it’s a good hire. I believe Mizzou will be better, and soon.

Martin has warts. He’s generally seen as a high-floor, low-ceiling coach, his teams have generally been hard to watch on offense, this is his fourth job since 2011, and he’s made just two NCAA Tournaments in nine seasons as a coach.

I really like Tom Crean. I believe Crean is a terrific coach. Indiana is a better job than Mizzou, with all the history and everything else, but it was in a worse situation when he took over than Mizzou has right now. Crean recruited NBA prospects and developed others. He won games in the NCAA Tournament. He was already recruiting the state of Missouri well.

That would’ve been my first call. I have no idea if he’d have taken the job, and I can understand the argument for calling Martin first anyway. To me, they’re both good candidates, in some different ways.

So, I’d call it a good hire, not a great hire. Martin makes a lot of sense. He’ll make Mizzou basketball better, and more interesting, and soon. That’s the most important thing.

I’d like to see what the roster will look like.

If Michael Porter is on it, and Martin lands some of these other guys he’s been linked to, it could happen as soon as next season. I understand that Ben Simmons and other top NBA picks haven’t made the NCAA Tournament, but that should be the expectation, if this recruiting class comes together.

The Final Four? Good gravy, I have no idea. Let’s make one step at a time.

My opinion on conference realignment has drastically changed over the years.

When the Big 12 began to break up, I took it almost personally. That league, and before it the Big 8, was such a big part of my sports fandom. It felt like home. I loved knowing the history of each school, having at least some idea about the culture, and the familiar rhythms and stories that went along with all of it.

Watching that league nearly self-destruct felt like an attack on all of that. The best part of college sports, to me, was the continuity — even as coaches and players changed so often, the bigger framework was almost timeless.

Some of that was altered, obviously, when the Big 8 added the four Texas schools. But watching Colorado, Nebraska and Mizzou (and, fine, Texas A&M, too) leave was heartbreaking.

West Virginia and TCU will never be Big 12 schools to me. The schools who left will always feel like Big 12 schools to me. I am fully aware of how old this makes me, but it’s how I feel.

I know this probably isn’t the answer you were looking for. There’s a basketball analysis to make, about Wichita State, even with all its success, winning 30 games and going 17-1 with a conference tournament championship and still getting a No. 10 seed as a sign that the Shockers have outgrown the Missouri Valley.

And that’s probably true.

Joining a league with Cincinnati, SMU, UConn and others would ostensibly help Wichita State grow its brand, and I’m using that term intentionally, because it’s a purely business decision.

So, sure. Go for it. The old me would’ve gone nostalgic over WSU no longer being in the Valley, or at Arch Madness. The new me thinks it would be cool to see some of those other schools play in Wichita.

I don’t know how you adjust to that kind of speed, and even if it’s possible, it appears the league did a terrible job of it last season. He scored eight touchdowns in the last five games. Division opponents are supposed to know each other the best, and Hill scored each time the Chiefs played a division opponent for the second time.

Now, I don’t believe he’s going to score 12 touchdowns a season, just because nobody does that. But he does present teams with a heck of a problem, and that speed isn’t going anywhere, at least not soon. He could, if anything, add to it by refining his routes.

At least in theory, he should be dang near impossible to cover. Play him straight up, and he can beat you over the top. Back off, and he should be able to chip away with shorter routes. Commit a safety to bracket the deep routes, and it should mean Travis Kelce and Jeremy Maclin have more space.

Football isn’t nearly that simple, of course. But I think what you’re asking is whether Hill is going to be a one-year wonder, and I’d be very surprised at that — even if we’ve already seen the best NFL season of his career.

I can’t even make a joke about this.

I love food, and often love artery-clogging food, but whoever came up with this should take a few days off.

Everything in the not-sandwich is delicious, even if pulled pork is the most boring of the smoked meats. But this thing should be eaten only on a bet, and include a mandatory donation to starving children overseas.

It’s not often that a hire that doesn’t involve any of the three local schools still manages to tick off two of the local schools.

Well done!

Starting with K-State, I don’t know the path for Underwood to get from Illinois to the job many have always seen for him. Unless he has a stronger and longer affinity for K-State than most coaches maintain for their alma mater, it’d be very surprising for him to go there from Illinois.

The most likely way would be for him to be fired there at some point down the road, and then take the K-State job, which would make him the most popular fired Illinois coach in K-State history.

I also saw some — some, I don’t think it’s a lot — Mizzou fans annoyed with the suspicion that Underwood is a better coach than Martin. Objectively, it would be hard to argue the point.

Underwood has made the tournament all four years he’s been a head coach, including his only season at Oklahoma State, where they went 12-20 the year before.

But I do think there’s a case to be made that Martin would be a better fit at Mizzou than Underwood, with the local connections, even though I believe culturally Mizzou fans would’ve fallen in love with Underwood, too.

Anyway, I think your question is a reference to Underwood no longer having a $6 million buyout to leave for another Big 12 school. And, yes. That makes it more possible he’ll be at K-State someday. But it’s not something I’d expect.

Yeah, I don’t understand this, either.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I understand it, and I’m guessing you do, too. He was a good and popular player at Oklahoma State. He’s young, has many connections throughout the amateur basketball world, presents himself well, and has a relatively high profile with his work on TV and radio.

Superficially, you can certainly understand why that would be attractive.

But I agree with the skepticism that’s insinuated in your question. He has, literally, no experience. That’s not to discount his intelligence, or the fact that he’s been around the game and has seen what being a head coach involves.

But that’s a very different thing than doing what a head coach involves, let alone working your way up and navigating all the obstacles that eliminate so many.

It’d be outside the box, and I love outside the box. But if that was my school, I’d want someone else to go outside the box first.

If he really wants to do this, what’s wrong with expecting him to at least prove it at a lower level first?

I don’t care about the WBC. I find it to be a bit of a farce, an artificial creation done by MLB marketing under the cause of globalizing the game, when if that was really the goal, MLB would take a few weeks of the summer and hold the tournament then when players weren’t knocking off the cobwebs and pitchers weren’t on pitch counts.

So, no, I don’t find it important — at all — for Team USA to win the “tournament.”

Now, all that said, I will say this, too: the WBC is hellaciously entertaining.

I love the energy, the passion, the country-vs.-country setup. The players involved clearly care deeply and compete hard, despite it all creating a legitimately playoff-esque atmosphere. It’s loads of fun.

But also fairly meaningless.

I am — thankfully? — not yet at the parenting point where I have an answer to this question. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m not sure I can name a single song from a Disney movie.

I can, however, sing theme songs from PAW Patrol, Blaze and the Monster Machines, Chuggington, Thomas and Friends*, and a handful of other shows.

* The 3-year-old had his first soccer game the other day, and a legendary debut: scored a goal, but also later put the other side on what was effectively a power play as he watched a nearby train pass. I could not be prouder.

Let me enjoy my pre-Disney time, is what I’m saying.

This is a pet issue for me, and it’s something that all leagues, and all teams, are going to have to increasingly deal with.

The experience, in so many ways, is just better at home. More convenient, more comfortable, in many ways more informative because you hear the broadcasters and can more easily go second screen.

Obviously, the in-stadium experience has one major advantage that home can never match. The energy, the noise, the atmosphere. You make a lot more memories going to a game than watching from home.

But, I don’t know, I’m probably getting ahead of myself here, but what happens when virtual reality becomes part of the experience from home? Does that close the gap even more?

I don’t know that this would affect the actual sports. Even if ticket revenue goes down — and leagues should absolutely do this if it means keeping their stadiums full, instead of charging a higher amount for less than full capacity — you would assume that could be made up with advertising.

There could be indirect consequences there. Most notably, fewer connections made in stadiums could mean fewer lifetime fans.

But, yeah. I’m with you. It’s a problem they will have to deal with.

Sure! Russ wrote about this the other day, but it seems like Mike Moustakas will bat second again, with Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer following. Alex Gordon has been batting leadoff some in spring, though manager Ned Yost is saying they just want to get him plate appearances.

Anyway. My best guess:

Alex Gordon

Mike Moustakas

Lorenzo Cain

Eric Hosmer

Sal Perez

Brandon Moss

Jorge Soler

Christian Colon

Alcides Escobar

Or, maybe that’s just my best guess because that’s what I think it should be (feel free to sub out Whit Merrifield for Colon, if you’d like). I’m also starting to be a believer that Cheslor Cuthbert will play some at second, and if that happens, then the lineup might shift around a bit.

And the rotation:

Danny Duffy

Ian Kennedy

Jason Hammel

Jason Vargas

Nate Karns

That last spot — and, depending on Vargas’ continued recovery from Tommy John surgery, the last two spots — could mix and match. But they have depth, which is important, because you probably need seven or eight starting pitchers to get through a season.

If we can all agree that daily fantasy leagues are legalized betting, it exists now, but I understand and appreciate your point.

I’d put the over-under around eight years. It takes a long time to change old laws, and to change minds, but there is so much money to be made — and, for the government, taxes to collect — that it just makes too much sense.

I’m not nearly smart enough to know how the rise of daily leagues affects the effort to legalize more traditional sports betting, but I would think it’s at least pushing open the door.

Casinos have lobbyists, and I’m guessing they also have studies and estimates about how much money they’re leaving on the table — and, again, in turn how much the government isn’t making — with this silly and outdated law.

Sam Mellinger: 816-234-4365, @mellinger

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