Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Royals (not?) repeating, dumb projections, a less dumb lineup, Bruce Weber and Peyton Manning

You may have seen this stat where the top 10 college basketball teams right now have 47 losses. A year ago, the top 10 had 43 losses all season.

That comes from a Twitter post by Jay Bilas, and we’re using KenPom.com for the rankings here. If you use the AP poll, the numbers aren’t quite as drastic — 42 losses for the current group; 47 for last year — but make the same point:

This is a wide-open college basketball season.

At the beginning of the year, it looked like there were maybe six or seven really good teams, and then a second tier. But the more basketball that gets played, the more teams you can see winning it all. Every team has at least three losses.

Six teams have been ranked No. 1. Six received first-place votes this week.

They made a good point on the Kansas-Oklahoma broadcast the other day: the first time they played, it was for the top ranking in the country, and the second time it was to keep from falling behind West Virginia.

Adam Kilgore had a good stat in this story: whoever has been the No. 1 team in the country is 20-6, including 6-6 on the road, and 7-6 against RPI top 100 teams.

Joe Lunardi has always had the easiest job in sports,* but right now there is probably a team that would be a one or a two seed right now that will end up being a five or a six, and the same may be true in reverse.

* Seriously. I’m not trying to call him out, but what are we doing here? Nothing he does makes a bit of difference until the very end, and even then, he’s demonstrably not the best at what he does, yet he’s the one with the ESPN platform. He’s an American hero, is what he is.

The conversation around these types of things inevitably leads to whether it’s good or bad for the sport, and generally, leagues and sports tend to benefit from dominant teams. That draws in casual fans. Without it — and with so many top starts like Ben Simmons and Kris Dunn at non-traditional powers — the field is unpredictable, which is hard for casual fans to digest, but great for nerds and junkies and die-hards.

We’ve been particularly lucky in this area with how good the Big 12 is, but other leagues are deep with talent as well. How about this:

Oklahoma, Kansas, Michigan State, and North Carolina have the best odds to win the national championship, according to this. Those first three teams have 12 conference losses between them. Michigan State is in a three-way tie for sixth in the Big Ten.

This week’s reading recommendation is my friend Liz Merrill on 10 years after Jason McElwain, and the eating recommendation is the breakfast burrito at Leed’s Diner. Also, if you like the Facebook and are not already, please give my page a follow. Less stupidity* than what I put on Twitter.

* “Less” does not mean “none.”

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

Well, probably not.

The odds of any team winning two World Series in a row are long. Baseball actually has more parity than the NFL, in no small part because of the tiny edges on which games are won, and the fact that the best baseball teams lost about four of 10 games while the best football team this past regular season lost one in 16. According to this, the Royals have longer odds to repeat than about seven teams.

It’s just hard. You play the extra games, so your pitchers take on extra work, and then you spend an offseason being told how great you are and, for the first time in many players’ lives, they are athletes with nothing to prove.

Even if none of that mattered, there is the significant element of luck involved. Some of that is in being healthy. The Royals have been incredibly healthy, all things considered, though I do attribute at least some of that to a good training staff, few old players, and a generally diligent work ethic on the roster. But, also, luck involves things like game four of the division series.

The Royals are a very good team, and at least in my dumb opinion, the betting odds linked above are shorting them. Their defense, particularly in the outfield, remains spectacular. Same with the bullpen. The rotation is average, and the offense, at least last year, was good with room to improve.

They can win again, sure. And I’d be surprised if they’re not back in the playoffs. But there is such a turnover in the postseason every year, and there are so many things that have to go your way beyond being very good at baseball ... if the question is yes/no, you get the Royals and I get 29 other teams, I feel good about my side.

So, this is part of what I’m talking about with the Royals being shorted. The PECOTA projections came out Tuesday, and I fully expected the Royals to be severely undervalued there. USA Today’s projection, the one you’re referring to, has the Royals finishing out of the playoffs and second in the AL Central with 84 wins.

That’s certainly possible. Anything between 81 and 100 wins would not be a shock. Baseball is just too unpredictable for any projection to be taken as gospel, or dismissed outright. The AL Central should be very competitive, meaning at least a team or two is going to significantly underperform its own internal expectations.

The rage/laughter about these things, I think, is that the Royals have just NEVER looked good in these projections. I mean, I’m sure it’s happened, but I can’t remember a projection that overvalued the Royals. We’ve been over some of the reasons for this, that the Royals win in a non-traditional way, with lots of defense and bullpen, but you’d think at some point there would be a projection that had the Royals as overvalued as some of the recent years have had them undervalued.

The real answer is that nobody should care about these predictions. They serve as a way to feed the appetite for sports discussion, and to give every athlete in every situation ever the opportunity to mention the haters should he or his team do well. I know I’m weird, but I like to understand the thinking or calculating behind the projections, but don’t think I ever put much belief or weight into them, including this one, that’s very much subject to change between now and opening night:

The Royals will win 92 games this year, and lose an awesomely entertaining ALCS to the Astros.

Terez and I met with Clark in San Francisco over Super Bowl week, and asked him, basically, that question. Not about jealousy, specifically, but how the Royals’ success changes the Chiefs’ outlook or business strategy going forward.

I don’t have the exact quote in front of me, but basically, he said it doesn’t, that there’s enough room in Kansas City for both teams to be successful, and mentioned the friendships that players on both sides of the parking lot have, that kind of thing.

Your question, I think, is a little more pointed and I suppose the correct answer has more to do with Clark and his constitution than anything else. I don’t claim to know Clark well, but I have talked to him many times, in group settings and one-on-one, and have found him to be remarkably consistent and focused.

I am sure that at some point between the end of game five and now he has thought about what it would be like if his team had that kind of success, but he doesn’t strike me as the kind to be jealous about it. He runs an incredibly successful business, first, and also happens to be a rising power broker in NFL circles. I believe the football success of the Chiefs is personal to him, and important*, but I also don’t know that he sees enough room in his life to care all that much about what the Royals do.

* I thought you could see that in subtle ways after the playoff win.

It’s sort of the same way in reverse. Obviously the Chiefs never won a Super Bowl in the 1990s or 2000s (or for a long time before that), but I don’t know that David Glass would ever have been jealous of anything the Chiefs did. I just don’t think that’s the way it works. I believe Clark might be jealous of the Broncos’ success, or of the Patriots’ continued employment of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, but that’s probably as far as it goes.

Great question, Scott!

I’ve always thought the league was too good and too deep for anyone to win outright, and that KU would be among the two (or three) teams to share the conference title, so that makes me very smart and as a very smart guy I am asking that you kindly ignore the fact that I figured the tie would’ve been with Iowa State.

As it stands, Kansas has a slight edge at 10-3, and finishes at K-State, at Baylor, Texas Tech, at Texas, and Iowa State.

Here are the five teams within 2 1/2 games of Kansas:

West Virginia is 9-3 and finishes at Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, at Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and at Baylor.

Oklahoma is 8-4 and finishes at Texas Tech, at West Virginia, Oklahoma State, at Texas, Baylor and at TCU.

Iowa State is 7-5 and finishes at Baylor, TCU, at West Virginia, K-State, Oklahoma State, and at Kansas.

Texas is 7-5 and finishes with West Virginia, Baylor, at K-State, Oklahoma, Kansas, and at Oklahoma State.

Baylor is 7-5 and finishes with Iowa State, at Texas, Kansas, at TCU, at Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

We talked a little about this on the Border Patrol, but I’m guessing KU finishes 14-4. Winning at OU in the way they did changes the perspective, because they did something they had previously been unable to do — win through adversity on the road. So before the other day, I would’ve had this at 13-5.

Still, I’m guessing that gives West Virginia the chance to share the conference title by winning at Texas on Tuesday, or (more likely) at home against Oklahoma on Saturday. That season finale at Baylor could be problematic, but if a share of the title is on the line I think West Virginia could do it.

After that, it’s tough to see another team keeping pace. Obviously if it takes 14-4, Oklahoma is the only team with a chance, and that would require winning at West Virginia and at Texas in winning out. If KU loses two of those three tough road games, or has a surprising loss at home, it would change all of this.

Kansas does not have anyone as good as Buddy Hield (yes, even after the other day), it does not defense like West Virginia, or shoot like Iowa State. But it does have four very good players surrounded by enough role guys, and with the league’s best coach and homecourt advantage, that will be enough to keep alive one of sports’ most ridiculous streaks.

Which will add bite to the jokes after another second round loss.

I kid! I kid! Probably! Maybe!

You guys, this question is not nearly as far-fetched as it seems. Not too long ago, in fact, Ned was basically begging me to play him in a movie here at the 2:30 mark:

To be clear, I would LOVE to play Ned in a movie. I’d have to dye my hair, grow an inch or two, gain less weight than I’d like to admit and figure out a way to make my voice gravely, but really, I think I’d nail it.

Reporter: Ned, why did you use Alex Gordon out of the bullpen tonight, and why did you let him throw 106 pitches?

Me: Because world champs, that’s why.

/cut to scene of the Royals down 14 runs with two outs in the ninth, the entire starting lineup watching from hospital beds with severe chicken pox, Ned staring at the batters box where Chris Young digs in against Aroldis Chapman with the ALCS on the line./

Me, to Dale: I figure we’ll wrap this up in time to kill a few deer before the Series starts, huh?

/chuckles, spits tobacco/

But to answer your question...

Alex Gordon, LF

Lorenzo Cain, CF

Eric Hosmer, 1B

Kendrys Morales, DH

Mike Moustakas, 3B

Sal Perez, C

Alcides Escobar, SS

Omar Infante/Christian Colon, 2B

Jarrod Dyson/Paulo Orlando, RF

A couple things to point out:

▪ Lineup construction is entirely overrated, but i’m a “Get Your Best Guys The Most Plate Appearances And Generally Try To Go Left-Right-Left-Right With Them” guy.

▪ If the season ends up needing Esky Magic, then dammit, give the season Esky Magic.

Any serious allegations of sexual assault should be dealt with appropriately and thoroughly. That’s incredibly important, and the amount of victim-shaming that tends to happen in these cases is a big problem.

All that said, this story comes with a lot of red flags. First, the allegations had been reported at the time, and every once in a while — usually on social media, yes — you hear them referenced. But more to the point, this is a 20-year-old case in which Manning was never charged or convicted. It was settled.

Also, the Daily News article is entirely dependent on a document written by the plaintiff’s attorney, which by definition makes it only the exaggeration of one side of the story. That the newspaper writer did not even reach out to Manning, or anyone around him, is strange.

I don’t want this to read as a defense of Manning. I don’t know what happened, and if the allegations that Tennessee tried to blame the incident on an innocent (and black) teammate are true, then that’s a symptom of an equally troubling disease.

But I guess more than anything, I’m struggling to find what’s new here, and am bothered by the one-sidedness of the Daily News story. Manning is rich and successful and nobody will feel sorry for him, and that’s not my point. But to not even reach out to see if he has anything to say?

Bob Kravitz wrote the most reasonable piece on this I’ve seen. There are a lot of ancillary debates we can have here, including this Howard Bryant piece that brings up too many smart points for me to fairly paraphrase in this sentence. The debates must weave through layers of race, social media, and so much else.

But here’s where I’m left: Manning was not charged or convicted. The alleged incident is 20 years old, and the settlement is 13 years old. If what the former trainer says is a fair representation of the truth, Manning is among many who must answer for that. But I need to see more than one newspaper story that’s essentially parroting a lawyer’s takedown from more than a decade ago.

Oh, cool. Another chance for the sportswriter in sweat pants to cast moral judgment.

It should be said that Richardson is not in the clear, at least not yet. The NFL decided to let the court case play out, and last month Richardson pleaded guilty to resisting arrest. He is subject to a suspension under the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

It should also be said that what Richardson did was unconscionable. He was speeding away from cops as fast as 143 miles per hour, with a 12-year-old in the car, and what police reported to be a strong odor of marijuana. There was also a gun in the car, but I hesitate to even mention that, because it was possessed legally.

Predicting the NFL’s personal conduct punishments is as difficult as predicting whether the replay challenge on a catch will hold up, and seems to have as much to do with public outrage as anything else. It’s one of many, many things that Roger Goodell has screwed up.

I guess I expect a short suspension, but I’m not sure.

Thought it was desperate. Motivating players through the media is a time-honored tradition among coaches, and one that’s generally judged by the credibility of the coach and, right now, Weber doesn’t have much.

I happen to like Weber. I happen to think he’s a better coach than many believe, and I can look at that 3-9 conference record and say that if they’d only won half their games decided by three points or overtime they’d be 5-7 and within squinting distance of the bubble. Win all those games, and he’s a legitimate candidate for conference coach of the year, even in a loaded season.

But I am also realistic, or at least try to be, and unless K-State closes out 5-1 this will be the third straight season Weber has fallen back in the conference. I know the excuse about the talent purge after last season, but coaches in their fourth year don’t get to play that card. The roster is theirs, better or worse.

That’s especially true for Weber, in this situation, because one of the points that was made about him after he was fired at Illinois is that he felt pressured into recruiting certain players. After the success Self had, Weber was expected to get the high-profile kids from Chicago, and for whatever reason he’s a guy who works better with mid-level recruits.

OK, fine. Then he had to know that at K-State, and any fallout from kicking kids out of the program — his own recruits — has to reflect on him as well.

So, I believe — and this is speculation on my part — that the pressure is bubbling up. At times, you see that on the sideline. I believe that’s why he’s saying some of these things about challenging the guys to play with energy, or to play angry.

What in the world is going on here.

The dunk contest used to suck. Remember that? Too many false starts, too much overhype, too many missed dunks, too many guys doing the same dunks someone else did the year before. With Twitter, and Vine, and everything else, spending a few hours watching the actual TV show was one of the world’s biggest wastes of time.

I am sure of a couple things. First, if you are the kind of person who reads this weekly silliness,* you have almost certainly seen all of the highlights.

* That kind of person is awesome, by the way, and among the true leaders in our world today.

Also, if you are the kind of person* who reads this weekly silliness, you’re not going to hate the option of seeing them again.

So, first up is Zach LaVine:

And, now Aaron Gordon:

When I watched the LaVine clip, I had honestly forgotten the between-the-legs-from-the-free-throw-line dunk. That’s a ridiculous thing to type: “I forgot that one guy jumped from 15 feet away from an iron cylinder 10 feet above the ground, carried a basketball with him and in mid-flight put said basketball between his legs, and was still high enough in the air to throw the basketball downward through the cylinder 10 feet above the ground.”

2016 remains drunk.

Well, first, if you aren’t taking a vacation in February you’re doing it wrong. It’s the best month to take a vacation, which is 80 percent of why my wife and I got married in February. After the holidays, you can grind through January, and in some ways, it’s nice to settle back into a routine.

But, and I know this week is really nice, usually February kind of sucks. It’s cold, which I actually like, but at some point another day of cold is the worst. So what I’m saying here is you should go to the beach somewhere.

I also realize you’re asking on short notice. So I would suggest you treat yourself to a nice meal one night. Justus Drugstore is worth the drive to Smithville. Osteria Il Centro is delicious. You cannot go wrong with Garozzo’s. But let’s not make this just about food.

Go to the Negro Leagues Museum. Seriously. Everyone says this, but you should really go, even if you’ve been but not in the last year. Incredible stuff there. Go to the Nelson-Atkins. They have some great civil rights era photography in an exhibit that will be gone soon. The Kemper is great, too. I never would’ve known this without having a kid, but the zoo is better than a lot of people realize. If you catch one of those random nice days, give it a try. They have a baby gorilla!

Take a tour at Boulevard. Go see something at the Kauffman, particularly if you want to impress your lady. Knuckleheads is the right kind of live music dive. Go to the CBE. Drink at Rieger. Go to the Mutual Musicians Foundation. Sporting has its first home game March 12. City Market Farmers Market! Get Harry to pick out bourbons for you at Harry’s. Drive Go Karts!

Or, you know, you could always watch Netflix like everyone else.

Speaking of which, please kindly leave some TV recommendations at the bottom of this page or on the twitter.

I’ll give you a semi-layered answer: first, I believe he has taken heat. But, second, I don’t know how many people really care about football at KU. Maybe we’re not supposed to say that out loud, and of course people care about it, and it’s an enormous potential money maker and all of that, but expectations and morale have been driven down so far that I just don’t know there’s a lot of outrage left.

The way one person close to the athletic department there put it: they’ve had stadium improvements put off for years because they can’t get the money for it, but they raised the money for the basketball team’s $11.2 million apartment complex over breakfast.

The Weis hire was terrible, and desperate, and those things were as true at the time as they are today. Zenger made that hire, because he was, well, desperate.

If David Beaty doesn’t win at KU — and he could be a terrific coach, and still not win there — then the heat will pile up on Zenger. AD’s who make two bad hires usually don’t get a third.

But, I don’t know, this might sound crazy, let’s see if Beaty can do it. He has a lot of the ingredients.

This was actually one of the first things I learned when I started at a newspaper: one space. It was hard, in those early days, remembering one space for the paper and two for English class. My working theory is that English teachers want the extra space so they have more room to write in red ink that you should consider a career in science.

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