Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: NCAA bracket answer key, why KU will win (maybe!)

Kansas had Baylor’s Rico Gathers surrounded en route to winning the Big 12 Tournament. Can the Jayhawks repeat that success in the NCAA Tournament?
Kansas had Baylor’s Rico Gathers surrounded en route to winning the Big 12 Tournament. Can the Jayhawks repeat that success in the NCAA Tournament? rsugg@kcstar.com

My bracket expertise was once auctioned off at my nephew’s elementary school, and I would like you to think about that and ignore the fact that whoever “won” the bidding did not even bother to call.

It’s the thought that counts, right?

I believe that Kansas is going to win the NCAA Tournament. Or, perhaps more accurately, the bracket I just filled out for my brother-in-law’s pool has KU winning. I guess that’s a different thing, on the technicality that I would certainly take the field against KU and, not just that, I’d give you all four No. 1 seeds and still take the field.

But, whatever, now is not the time for uncertainty. Now is the time we all get to pretend we know what’s what with this bracket, so here is how I pretend:

Kansas, Baylor, Kentucky and Michigan State in the Final Four. Kansas over Michigan State in the final.

South: Kansas over Wichita State in the regional final; KU over Maryland and Wichita over Iowa in the Sweet 16; KU over Connecticut, Maryland over Hawaii, Wichita over Miami, and Iowa over Villanova in the second round.

West: Baylor over Oregon State in the regional final; Baylor over Oregon and Oregon State over Texas A&M in the Sweet 16; Oregon over St. Joe’s, Baylor over Duke, A&M over Northern Iowa and Oregon State over Oklahoma in the second round.

East: Kentucky over Xavier in the regional final; Kentucky over UNC and Xavier over West Virginia in the Sweet 16; UNC over Providence, Kentucky over Chattanooga, West Virginia over Notre Dame and Xavier over Wisconsin in the second round.

Midwest: Michigan State over Butler in the regional final; Butler over Iowa State and Michigan State over Utah in the Sweet 16; Butler over Virginia, Iowa State over Little Rock, Utah over Gonzaga and Michigan State over Syracuse in the second round.

I like KU’s balance and defense, Baylor’s talent and experience, Kentucky’s point guard and coach, and Michigan State’s star and coach. I don’t like Virginia’s ability to score, or Oklahoma’s defense, or Villanova’s path. I wanted to pick West Virginia to go farther, and Xavier to lose earlier, but we all make compromises in this life.

Anyway, please feel free to save these picks and mock these picks, especially when Vanderbilt beats Wichita in the play-in game.

This week’s eating recommendation is the avocado omelet at Char Bar, and the reading recommendation is Jesse Katz on the San Quentin marathon.

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

Bob Schaefer is a lifelong baseball man. He has worked all over the game, and was actually the Royals’ interim manager twice — between John Wathan and Hal McRae in 1991, and between Tony Peña and Buddy Bell in 2005. Anyway, I’m sure this line has been said about others, but Schaefer was the first I heard it attached to:

He’s not always right, but he’s always certain.

That is, pretty much, how we all are about our NCAA Tournament brackets.

I happen to believe that Kansas got a favorable draw, that their regional being in Louisville instead of Chicago is not a big deal, that Oregon and the Pac-12 might be undervalued by the public, that the Big Ten is underseeded, that Kentucky is a mother of a No. 4 seed, that Oklahoma will lose early, that Baylor will beat Duke in the best second-round game, that Villanova is overrated, that Cal’s two possible lottery picks are getting more attention than their struggles to guard the perimeter and score, that Virginia will lose to Butler in the second round, that Utah could be a problem for Michigan State in the Sweet 16, that West Virginia and Kentucky will play in the final of a loaded East bracket, and that Kansas will win the national championship because of their balance, togetherness, toughness, ability to win games with offense or defense, strong guard play, experience, and that Perry Ellis will have a big tournament.

But, I also know these are all just guesses, and expect at least half to be wrong.

Which is a lot of the fun, right? The NCAA Tournament is the greatest sporting event in the world, and Thursday is my favorite day of the year.

If there is even a small annoyance I have with all of this, it’s people who take their bracket knowledge and projections way too seriously.

Your bracket is about to blow up. Sit back and enjoy it.

The rim protection is the biggest thing, to me. They are vulnerable to a big-time scorer at either forward position, because Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis are the weakest individual defenders in the starting lineup. But even that’s not a huge hole because both are smart players and good team defenders.

If the bad version of Frank Mason shows up, that’s a problem. If KU isn’t hitting three-pointers, their margin for error shrinks. Free-throw shooting has been in and out. They’ve had lapses in focus or effort from time to time that frustrate the coaches, but these are all things that can be said about a lot of teams.

In a year when every team has flaws, Kansas’ flaws are relatively small, and mostly manageable. They have to play well, obviously, but I’m starting to think the “lack of a go-to scorer” thing is being overblown, and I say that as someone who’s said and written that.

Because other than Oklahoma — which doesn’t defend, and relies too much on three-point shooting — and Michigan State, there aren’t a lot of teams with a single dominant player. Brice Johnson is great, but North Carolina goes away from him at times, and Marcus Paige hasn’t been as good as he’s capable. Tyler Ulis is great, and surrounded by a lot of talent. Maybe he’s one.

Malcolm Brogdon, Jakob Poeltl, Fred VanVleet, Jalen Brown, Jarrod Uthoff, Yogi Ferrell and others are great, but it’s not like the field is full of generational talents that can carry teams.

I actually think this is one of the places he’s been best this year. When he openly said he wanted his guys to play with more personality, it seemed to me an odd request. It’s hard to just one day decide to have more fun, or be loose, because the whole point is that having fun or being loose requires something much easier than a conscious decision like that.

But, who can say it hasn’t worked?

The bench isn’t quite Monmouth, and the guys on the floor aren’t exactly the Golden State Warriors, but you can see that they’re loose. Mason “guarding” Graham in the final seconds of the conference tournament final, three guys laughing as they fight each other for the last rebound against K-State in Manhattan, Graham skipping downcourt, on and on.

I don’t know how important this is in reality — nobody’s skipping anywhere if shots aren’t falling — but I do think it’s a positive sign for KU fans.

Hey-hey, let me link to a column!

There are a lot of places in sports where reputation and reality are separated, but this is one where the two are in lockstep. If anything, the Big 12 doesn’t get enough credit for being a consistent underperformer in the NCAA Tournament.

The numbers are in that column, and I do hope you read it, because they were even worse than I expected. The one that stuck out the most:

The Big 12 has lost more games than it has won in each of the last three tournaments. In the last 10 years, no major conference has more than two such tournaments. The ACC has none, and the Big Ten just one, back in 2006.

With most things in the NCAA Tournament, I try to make sweeping judgments. The event’s randomness means definitive statements about one or two years are almost always silliness disguised as analysis, but this is not a short-term trend. Over the last decade, the league has failed in the NCAA Tournament, over and over and over again. You can explain away or shrug off a bad year or two, but not a bad decade.

The league, at least in my opinion, has deserved its compliments this year. It’s been (mostly) good basketball, and (mostly) entertaining basketball. But it’s all going to flip, and quickly, if the league is shut out of the Final Four and doesn’t get three or four teams in the Sweet 16.

Yeah, I thought there were some misses. Tulsa and Michigan should be out. Monmouth and Saint Mary’s should be in. I thought the committee stacked the East bracket, under-seeded Kentucky, Wichita State and the Big Ten, and I think it’s curious but ultimately not at all a big deal that KU is sent to Louisville and Virginia to Chicago.

I do, however, think the committee did the right thing in leaving South Carolina out, because the Gamecocks’ schedule was wet toilet paper, and schools — particularly in power conferences — should be encouraged to schedule tougher.

But I’ll also say this: it’s a hard job, and a million criteria have to be met — minutae like spreading out schools from the same conference — and a million decisions have to be made almost in real time.

Mistakes are inevitable, and because we’re all experts on this thing and only see the final product, mistakes are blown out of proportion and defensible decisions are painted as mistakes.

It’s not a job I’d want, and it’s not a job I’d want any of my friends to have. Well, actually, that’s not true. It would be so much fun to have a friend on the committee and then berate that friend forever about all the dumb mistakes he made.

Well, if it’s more than two, it’ll be with a different coach.

And that was a bit strange, wasn’t it? The press releases from Mizzou that essentially amounted to “we’re not firing Kim Anderson after two years, but he needs to get better?”

It would’ve been unfair and rash to fire him after two years. He certainly hasn’t proved he can coach at this level, but considering the context, it’s too early to call the fight. The problem, or at least one of the problems, is consistency. They’ve had a lot of staff turnover, and are likely to have even more.

There are signs that improvement is coming, if you want to look for them. They’re young, and have a core you can imagine them building with. It was important that they finished relatively strong, and that’s at least in part a tribute to Anderson, for being able to keep a team on task in all of that misery.

If Vegas made lines about such things — and, hell, they probably do — it would probably be set at 0.5 NCAA Tournaments for Anderson and 1.5 seasons.

I like Kim, I root for Kim, I want people like him — who love a place, work hard for a dream job, and then get the chance — to succeed.

But he’s running against a stiff breeze, even after two years.

For sure. Absolutely.

But, a couple counterpoints. Derrick Johnson, honest to goodness, may have played the best season of his career at age 33. Even if we’re just talking about football, and nothing about character or leadership or example setting, Johnson is critical to what they do.

The Chiefs don’t have another middle linebacker who’s nearly as good, and (along with Mike DeVito’s injury) you saw how much difficult they had defending the run without Johnson in 2014.

Hali has a contract that would’ve given the Chiefs a cap hit even if he didn’t play in 2016, so especially if you are working in the context of sunk costs, it’s not a bad thing to bring back a good player — particularly if Dee Ford is either (still) not ready, or trending toward unfulfilled potential.

There are signs that Hali won’t play as many snaps in 2016, with the idea that he can be more effective with a smaller workload. He obviously isn’t the player he was, say, five years ago. But he’s still effective, and if the Chiefs see their best chances being in the next year or two, they’re much better with him than without.

Well, the London game was Clark Hunt being a League Man. He’s the chair of the international committee, and it is figuratively in his DNA to do what’s best for the league first, and what’s best for the Chiefs second. That’s how his father was, and that’s how the son is.

The tampering penalty, however, is ridiculous. The most consistent speculation I’ve heard is that the NFL is tired of tampering rules being broken, and want to make a statement that it won’t be tolerated. If that’s the case, then using the Chiefs — a franchise with a relatively clean record, and a coaching staff with the same — as an example might be effective.

The problem with that logic is, well, a lot. Because if it happened the way it’s been reported, the Chiefs committed the equivalent of a jaywalking offense. They did not contact a player or agent during the season. They contacted a free agent during a time when strange NFL rules limit contact to agents.

I still don’t know why this is a rule that needs to be protected, or an offense that needs to be punished with what is apparently the stiffest penalty ever for a tampering offense.

That’s why the make-an-example-of-’em theory seems flimsy to me. Even by the NFL’s inconsistent and discredited standards, this is harsh and random. There has to be something else going on here, but either way, I do wonder if this might be significant in Roger Goodell losing credibility with the owners.

There was a contingent of owners who at least tacitly approved of the NFL’s bizarre witch hunt on the Patriots that was done by essentially treating the laws of physics like a game of make-believe. There is jealousy and some distaste for the Patriots around the league.

But the Chiefs? Who have they wronged? They don’t win enough to be disliked, and with the notable exception of the Scott Pioli years, have carried a reputation as a solid-if-underperforming organization. Clark Hunt carries near unanimous respect around the league.

I’ll be surprised if the penalties aren’t lowered, and depending on how this works out, I’ll be very surprised if Goodell’s handling of it doesn’t negatively impact how he’s viewed by the owners he works for. This is just such a strange and unnecessary fight to pick.

This is a common thing with Chiefs fans, and sure, anything bad happening to the Broncos is in turn good for the Chiefs. It wasn’t just the quarterbacks. Malik Jackson took the Jaguars’ money, and Danny Trevathan left for the Bears. C.J. Anderson will be with the Dolphins if the Broncos don’t match a contract offer by Tuesday afternoon.

But, let’s also be honest about a few things.

First, the Broncos won the Super Bowl because of their defense, and while Jackson and Trevathan are significant losses, they still have Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware and the league’s best set of cornerbacks.

Also, the Broncos’ streak of division titles started with Tim Tebow, and they just won a Super Bowl with a guy who a while back used to be Peyton Manning. They do not require outstanding quarterback play to win, and John Elway has proved to be nearly as good in the front office as he was as a player, so I’m still not putting it past him to trade for Aaron Rodgers or something.

I do think the gap between the Broncos and the Chiefs is smaller than it’s been, which is probably a stupid thing to say after the Broncos just won the Super Bowl.

But, whatever. I’ll say something stupider soon.

That is the definition of unnecessary risk. You’re probably going to get away with it, but what are you trying to prove? And if you get a ticket like that, you deserve everything that’s coming to you. Especially if you’re saying drive next to the cop. I mean, that’s just reckless.

Drive behind the cop? Maybe. But drive next to him, and you’re creeping close to taunting.

I hope the most meaningful was about a man who stopped playing football after a short time in college, but died at 25 with a level of CTE in his brain that shocked researchers. It’s a story that I hope continues to be shared.

The scariest part of CTE and brain damage in football isn’t what happens to grown men who are paid well during long professional careers. It’s what happens to amateurs, to our friends and brothers and cousins and neighbors. That the NFL finally acknowledged a link between football and CTE on Monday is shameful, and a reminder that we need to know more, and continue to push for answers.

Most fun? Anything from the last two baseball postseasons, or if you’re sticking to one specific story, it’s probably this rip-off of Buck O’Neil’s famous “my best day in baseball” story.

I have no idea about “best.” I really liked my coverage of the 2001 Kansas state high school tennis tournament.

For sure. If Sporting could just get someone from the other team to lose their mind and forget how to tackle right before every halftime, they’d be in great shape!

The win against Vancouver was impressive, even giving up the goal in the second half against 10 men. Dom Dwyer’s first goal was a spectacular individual play, and the second came on a gorgeous string of passes. That’s a heck of a combination.

They let up in the second half, which is natural if not ideal, but either way it’s a terrific start to the season for Sporting.

Whatever, Dan. Only people who don’t know every strength and vulnerability and matchup problem for all 68 teams would say something vapid like that.

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