Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Meaning (?) of the Big 12 Tournament, the changing Chiefs, and KU or the Royals?

The Big 12 men’s basketball tournament is fun for a lot of reasons, and only one of them is the basketball.

For all of AEG’s fibs with giving half a damn about landing a team or the subsequent nonsense about how not having a team is actually a good thing, and for all of the financial strain the Power & Light District has put on the city’s budget, this is the one week where the two structures work in beautiful harmony.

And the basketball this year should be particularly good. The Big 12 is the consensus best league in the country, and you can find metrics that say it’s as good as any league has been in years.

I thought this was interesting: the Big 12’s all-conference first team included a two-time player of the year (Buddy Hield), and two repeat first-team selections (Perry Ellis and Georges Niang). You don’t get that kind of consistency often.

But the other thing is that, well, even in this terrific season for the league — actually, perhaps because of this terrific season for the league — this tournament really doesn’t mean much.

There are some chances for teams to play up or down a seed. Kansas — with some overwhelming RPI numbers* — could get knocked off the No. 1 overall line, or maybe Oklahoma could get knocked off the 1-line, and we could go on and on.

* Check KU’s record vs. RPI top 50, compared to others.

But there’s no team that can likely play its way into or out of the tournament, other than the unlikely possibility of K-State, TCU or Oklahoma State winning the whole thing. It sets up an interesting context, because everybody wants to win, but none of these teams need to win. The basketball will be good, because it has to be, but the best basketball has something beneath the aesthetic.

This one won’t have that, probably. Which is fine, because the aesthetic will be enough to carry the day.

This week’s reading recommendation is Adam Kilgore’s and Dan Steinberg’s oral history of George Mason’s run to the Final Four 10 years ago, and the eating recommendation is the Meathead at Johnny Jo’s.

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

I moved from downtown a little more than three years ago, and even though we’re a short drive away, and even as I wouldn’t trade, I do miss a lot about being there. Tops on the list is this week, and walking to the Sprint Center for games, and then home from McFadden’s or the Quaff or wherever the night ended.

So, as much as I want to give you the best possible answers here, please keep in mind that my information may be a little dated. I’m going with nostalgia here, and the mindset of a man too old for dance clubs and too young to go straight home.

The Quaff has screens and Pop-A-Shot and stays open late. Johnny’s has the best food at P&L, McFadden’s the liveliest atmosphere, and the Phoenix (a short walk from P&L) has live music and cigars.

If you’re up for getting out of the downtown loop, Harry’s in the River Market is one of my favorite places. There is nothing not awesome about Harry’s. Caddy shack is off the path a bit, and I haven’t been there in a while, but the staff is great, the vibe is beautifully unpretentious, and thinking about the pizza is literally making me hungry as I type this.

Westport is a short drive, and probably my favorite part of the city to hang out. Kelly’s is the spot, but it may be too packed with Iowa State fans, so there’s also Harpo’s (pop-a-shot and good back patio) and the Foundry and Firefly and McCoy’s (good front patio) and Westport Saloon, which is particularly awesome for its whisky list and live music. Also, Westport Flea Market, Beer Kitchen, Char Bar and Port Fonda are terrific places to eat.

None of these are secret, of course, but there’s plenty to do. Oh, and also, if your night gets past midnight and you and your friends don’t want it to end, try the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

This is campaign season, so I’m going to answer the question I want to answer instead of the one you asked. Here, then, are the best 10 beers made in the Big 12 footprint. Sorry, West Virginia. I have not had a delicious beer from your state.

And, two rules: it has to be made in a Big 12 state, and in what might be called the Boulevard rule, a limit of two beers per brewery. Also, this is my list, so I’m making an exception for two Kansas City breweries that are in Missouri.

10. Bock, Shiner, Texas. Delicious. Just a good, solid beer. And we’re about to get fancy with some of these, so this list needs some mainstream street cred.

9. Iowa Pale Ale, Millstream Brewing, Iowa.

8. Wit, 512, Texas.

7. Buffalo Sweat, Tallgrass, Kansas. You gotta get past the name.

6. Stormchaser IPA, Free State, Kansas.

5. Prairie Artisan Pirate Bomb, Oklahoma. It’s an imperial stout, so not for everybody. But delicious.

4. 8-Bit, Tallgrass, Kansas.

3. Bloody Christmas, Torn Label, Kansas City. Loved this beer. Haven’t had enough of Torn Label’s stuff, but looking forward to more.

2. Tank 7, Boulevard. Might could maybe be my second favorite beer in the world.

1. Saison-Brett, Boulevard. My favorite beer in the world.

* But if I answered the question you asked, K-State fans would get Samuel Jackson beer, and Kansas fans would get something to calm the nerves — might I recommend a brandy? — when they secretly start freaking out about another early loss.

Vahe would always have my vote.

This is, obviously, a reference to Tubby Smith winning Big 12 coach of the year over Bill Self. I think it was the wrong choice — The Star also picked Tubby Smith — but don’t think it’s the sham many seem to.

Look, I totally get the inclination to pick someone other than Self. When a team is supposed to win, it’s hard to get excited about it winning. Again. And what Smith has done at Texas Tech is exemplary — they went 3-15 in the league three years ago, before Smith was hired — and the February run through Iowa State, (at) Baylor and Oklahoma was impressive.

But Self won the nation’s toughest league by two games, and he did it without the best player, and without the best starting lineup. The way KU rallied after those three straight blowout losses on the road was terrific. If he doesn’t deserve the award this year, I’m not sure when he deserves it.

There is a tendency in these things to put down one side to prop your own, and I want to be careful that doesn’t happen here. Smith is a damn good coach, and maybe your argument is that it’s tougher to go 9-9 in the league at Tech than it is to win the title at Kansas. That’s fine.

But it also seems a bit like a stretch that the coach of the year will be coaching in what is effectively a conference tournament play-in game on Wednesday night.

I’d have voted for Self, and if there was such a thing, my second-place vote would’ve been between Smith and Bob Huggins. But, whatever. All three are strong. And if you are worked up over conference coach of the year awards, you have more capacity for outrage than I, so good for you.

Oklahoma and Iowa State on Thursday night is a delightful quarterfinal and, really, there is next to no chance that any semifinal and final won’t also be compelling.

I suppose KU-Oklahoma would be the TV ratings winner, and it would be interesting to see how they matched up for a third time. Devonte Graham was so spectacular in Norman, but that’s unlikely to happen again. I’d also love to see a KU-West Virginia game. A lot of what Press Virginia does is better at home, but they completely took away KU’s confidence in Morgantown.

Texas-West Virginia would be a fun final, too. But, really, there is not a matchup after the quarters that won’t be interesting.


No. 1 overall? No. What if Michigan State wins the Big Ten Tournament? If KU loses this week, that would mean the same number of losses for each, and MSU won head-to-head. What if KU lost Thursday or Friday, and Oklahoma won the tournament? Villanova has lost once since January, and that was in overtime. Before that, you have to go all the way back before Christmas, against Virginia, which is another team that would have a good argument if KU falls this week.

Also, seedings and rankings are always fairly irrelevant in college basketball, but that’s particularly true this year.

Also-also, I just did Joe Lunardi’s job for a paragraph. Wasn’t hard.

More chances to predict brackets!

Kansas, Villanova, Oklahoma and Michigan State. At the moment. Which is a very different thing than who I like in the tournament.

Matchups are always as important as anything else, but here are some teams generally projected as a three or lower that I think are dangerous: North Carolina (might be the best team in the country, actually), Kentucky (love Tyler Ullis), Iowa, Providence, Utah, Cal, and VCU.

Obviously, you should bet against all of these teams now.

Well, according to the internet, Kansas is 17:2 to win the basketball title and the Royals are 14:1 to win the World Series, meaning Kansas is nearly twice as likely.

And, yeah. That seems about right. Those Royals odds are suffering from name brand recognition, because if the Cubs or Yankees or Dodgers or Cardinals had been to two straight World Series and won the last one, they’d probably be like 3:2 the next year.

But the history of baseball teams winning consecutive World Series is rotten for a reason. Ben Zobrist is gone without replacement, and a bet on the Royals is a bet for them to stay healthy, and for an awesome bullpen to once again drag a meh rotation, and for the Royals to navigate all the inevitable but unpredictable spins of chance that baseball seasons demand.

With Kansas, the bet is for one of — if not the — best teams in the country to win a six-game tournament when the first game is a layup. Kansas is experienced, has two strong ball-handling guards, and lots of depth inside. They have flaws, of course, primarily with rim protection and lack of a go-to scorer. Everyone else has flaws, too.

So, what I’m saying here is: both are unlikely, both are possible, KU just happens to be a little more possible.

The Chiefs’ decision to use the franchise tag on Eric Berry is essentially deuces to Sean Smith, which is less than ideal.

I thought there might be a way for the Chiefs to (transition) tag Smith, and still get a long-term deal done with Berry, Johnson, and Tamba Hali, assuming he plays again. Berry is much more inclined to stay in Kansas City long-term, so the Chiefs doing it this way is either an indication that the dollars wouldn’t work to keep him and Smith or that they feel like they need the tag leverage to keep Berry.

Losing Smith would be a challenge, and in some important ways remake their defense. Marcus Peters is a terrific talent, but being the No. 1 cornerback is a lot different than No. 2, and it means more pressure on Phillip Gaines and Steven Nelson and to find a cornerback in the draft (again).

There’s more than enough time in the offseason to wait to see how things play out a bit more, but the tag going to Berry is a strong indication that the team will look very differently in at least one spot next year.

There is no chance.

I don’t want to get political here, but I do think it’s important to vote. I believe in that. Voter turnout is, generally, laughably low. Right, left, whatever, more of us should vote.

But nobody should be expected to wait in those lines.

And no system should ask people to wait in those lines.

Last year, Wade Davis struck out 78 and allowed 53 baserunners with a 0.94 ERA in 67 1/3 innings. It was, in many ways, a historic performance.

In the history of baseball, only six men have ever pitched that many innings with an ERA that low. And, in some ways, Davis’ 2014 was just as good — 109 strikeouts and 61 baserunners with a 1.00 ERA in 72 innings.

For the effort, he finished sixth in AL Cy Young voting, behind winner Dallas Keuchel, David Price, Sonny Gray, Chris Sale and Chris Archer. The next highest relief pitcher was Andrew Miller, tied for 10th with three vote points.

So I guess some of this depends on your definition of “in the running” for the award. Is sixth in the running? Does it have to be top five? Top three?

I have what might be considered a bias here, but I believe that except for a circumstance so rare I can’t think of it, the Cy Young awards should go to starting pitchers. There is just soooo much more value in 220 innings than 70.

Not just the innings total, though that’s a big part of it. But if David Price is pitching a Friday night, the Red Sox know they can probably be more aggressive with their bullpen on Thursday, and that their relievers will be well rested on Saturday. A great night by a starting pitcher means the offense only needs one run to win a game. A great night by a relief pitcher still means a lot of other people have to do their jobs, too.

I’m not diminishing Davis’ brilliance. He is otherworldly as a relief pitcher, even better than I thought he’d be when I was being mocked for saying he’d be a very good relief pitcher.

But there’s a reason the Royals traded for him as a starting pitcher, and a reason he went to the bullpen only after failing as a starter.

This argument is essentially why baseball has redefined and pushed their Reliever of the Year Award, although Davis should’ve won it over teammate Greg Holland two years ago and again over Andrew Miller last year.

But that’s a different topic.

I actually think the Chiefs’ chances go down. I referenced this in the column, but the Chiefs desperately wanted another shot at Manning. They should’ve beaten the Broncos at Arrowhead, and they blew out the Broncos in Denver. By the end, Manning’s arm was shot, he was no longer an effective NFL quarterback in any capacity other than aura and play calling, and the Broncos won the Super Bowl more despite him than because of him. I don’t think this is controversial.

Let’s assume Brock Osweiler is Denver’s starting quarterback now. We don’t really know how good he is, and we know less about how good he’ll be next year. His numbers — 61.8 percent passing, 10 touchdowns, six interceptions, an 86.4 passer rating and 48.8 QBR — are fine. You would assume that with another year of experience, an offseason preparing as the starter, and an offense built for his strengths, that he’ll be better.

If all of that is true, I would assume the Broncos would be the betting favorite again.

We are also having this discussion in early March, which, even by the very low standards of sports predictions, is incredibly irrelevant.

Yeah, that’s a bad look. I don’t know the inner workings of that staff, or the things they’re not saying publicly that might be fueling this, but generally speaking David Beaty has enough to do trying to save that program without calling plays.

Again, generally speaking, I think it’s best for a coach in that situation to concentrate on the big picture, on building and maintaining a positive atmosphere, on coordinating recruiting, on player relationships, on a million different things about a program’s infrastructure that need fixing.

This is particularly strange because last season’s playcaller, offensive coordinator Rob Likens, is still on staff.

But, guys, this is also true: why not? Try something different. Sure. Godspeed.

Yes. Lots. And before I say anything else, I want to be clear that I am not complaining. I love my job, for a lot of reasons, and understand I’m lucky to have it. My basic advice to students who want to be in sports journalism is that you have to really want to do this, but if you do, and you’re willing to make the tradeoffs, it’s a great way to make a living and, also, the most important advice — keep your grubby hands off my job.

All that said, yes, there are lots of things I miss. Lots of things my friends do that I wish I could. Most can be generally categorized as being able to watch and enjoy games instead of work at and analyze games.

This is hard to explain, and I never feel like I do as well at it, but it’s sort of like being a fan of a band vs. working for a band or concert venue. If I’m a fan of a band, I can listen to their music whenever I want, however I want, whether that’s during a workout or driving or cooking dinner or whatever, and the moment I want to hear something else or nothing at all I turn the music off. I can know the name of the drummer, or where the lead singer is from, but I don’t have to care about any of that if I don’t want to. Writing about a team means having to care about things you otherwise might not.

If I’m working a concert venue, even if I like the show on a particular night, I’m working and on a radio or helping people to their seats or cleaning a bathroom or serving food or doing any number of things that aren’t enjoying music. If I have friends who can’t go to the show, they’re jealous I’m there. If I have friends who are at the show, I’m jealous of their experience.

There’s also a lot of time away, which is actually awesome when you’re single but less awesome when you have a wife and kid(s) at home. There are obviously people who travel a lot more, not to mention people in the military, who are on a whole different level here. I also get to work from home a lot, which is great.

This business jades a lot of people. I know men and women who grow to dislike sports, and their lives in it. I haven’t gotten there and don’t think I ever will. But I understand how it can happen.

The basic disconnect is that this job lets me be close to something I love, but not in the way in which I grew to love it. I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone but me.

Again, I wouldn’t trade it. I’ve never seriously thought about doing anything else, and I love my job, in part because of weeks like this. I love that I am paid — thousands of dollars every year! — to do things like go to the Big 12 Tournament and write about what I see or feel.

But if you’re going to any of the games this week, you will have more fun at those games than I will. It’s a great job, but it’s still a job.

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