by Kurtis Seaboldt
His team had blown a big late lead in a crushing NCAA Tournament loss. He was losing all five of his starters. A prized recruit had spurned him for a different team in blue. It had not been a great two months for Kansas head basketball coach Bill Self.
And it didn’t look like it would get much better any time soon. Marcus Smart announced he would join LeBryan Nash and Markel Brown in staying at Oklahoma State. Self’s string of consecutive Big 12 titles was staring at its toughest test yet. He needed something big.
Boy, did he get it.
There were no television cameras in Huntington, West Virginia Tuesday. No table with a variety of school hats. Nothing even resembling what we’ve seen in recent years when this type of announcement is made. No, it was a simple, six-word tweet that turned a Kansas basketball season of rebuilding into one of endless potential.
“Andrew Wiggins will be attending Kansas”.
Some were shocked. Even Kansas fans thought that Wiggins, who some call the best high school basketball player since LeBron James, was either going to Kentucky (where all the high school stars go) or Florida State (where Wiggins’ parents went). I was not shocked.
The reason is simple: Bill Self is a winner. And I knew that he was going to win one somewhere along the line. There was no way that the best coach in college basketball was going to go from March to November without something good happening to his program.
The addition of Wiggins has entirely changed the look of next year’s Kansas team. They may have been picked second in the Big 12. They now have the second-best odds (behind Kentucky) to win the national championship.
The pressure is now on Bill Self to win big. The pressure is on Andrew Wiggins, too. Expectations at Kentucky would have been high but he would have shared them with the rest of that amazing class. He would have carried all the expectations at Florida State but they wouldn’t have been nearly as lofty. In Tallahassee, they hang banners at the football stadium not in the basketball arena.
Kansas puts the worst of both worlds on Wiggins’ back. He will face the expectations of an elite program while bearing the weight of being viewed as something of a savior. That dynamic, as much as his awe-inspiring physical gifts, will make this one very interesting season in Lawrence, Kansas.
by Kurtis Seaboldt
It was just one game. But still…
In their early sprint to the front of the pack in the American League Central, the Royals had done a good job of bouncing back. They had seldom let one loss become two. They had never let two losses become three.
But there they were, after two straight blowout losses at home, trailing the Tampa Bay Rays in the sixth inning. Their offense had, once again, been stifled by the other team’s starting pitcher – this time it was 25-year old right-hander Alex Cobb. They had not scored a run in fourteen innings, during which they had compiled seven hits, six of them singles. There were two outs and no one on base as Cobb looked to finish off another scoreless frame.
Then Eric Hosmer drove one over the head of left fielder Matt Joyce for a double. So what? There were two outs. Hosmer looked like just another runner waiting to be stranded. But then Lorenzo Cain rifled a ball into left, scoring Hosmer, and the Royals had a run. But they were still down a run with two outs and the struggling Mike Moustakas at the plate. Time for a nice bouncer to second to end the inning.
Then Moustakas hit one on the screws and drove it deep into the bullpen in right. The Royals led. The crowd went nuts. The dugout went nuts. Moustakas rounded the bases like he wanted to destroy everything in his path before returning to the dugout to throw violent high fives to whomever threw up a hand. I can’t recall a sixth-inning homerun that meant more to the person who hit it.
Then everything went KC’s way. Four singles, a double, a triple, two steals and an error and the Royals were suddenly winning in a route. But the sudden offensive outburst that stole the show at the end was only part of the story.
Somewhat lost in the shuffle was a terrific performance from James Shields. Pitching against the team that found him expendable, Shields was rocky in the first. His pitch count was way up and his offense was doing nothing to help him. All he did was settle down and retire 18 of the last 20 hitters he faced, including the last 12, in going seven innings.
The Royals needed a stopper Tuesday night. They needed an ace. James Shields was every bit of that. Seven innings, five hits, two runs, one walk and seven strikeouts. All Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland had to do was avoid disaster, which they did. There would be no losing streak. Royals 8, Tampa Bay 2. Suddenly everything is looking up again at Kauffman Stadium.
It was just one game. But still…
Royals Rotation Off to a Good Start
by Kurtis Seaboldt
The Royals were on the ropes Sunday at Kauffman Stadium.
Having just swept the Minnesota Twins to forge a game-and-a-half lead in the AL Central, the Boys in Blue had dropped two straight and were down 1-nothing in their finale against Toronto. A sweep by the Jays would have offset the sweep of the Twins and sent the Royals onto an eight-game road trip against three first place teams with exactly zero wind in their sails.
Ervin Santana to the rescue.
The right-hander shook off the run he allowed in the first and went eight innings, allowing just two runs and keeping the game tied until KC bats could finally win it, which they did on Alex Gordon’s ninth-inning, walk-off single.
It was just one win but, when you consider the flip of emotion and what lies ahead the next week and a half, it seemed more like two. And it highlighted, once again, the biggest difference between this year’s Royals and the Royals of recent memory: Consistently effective starting pitching.
Santana’s outing marked the club’s sixth quality start – at least six innings with no more than three runs allowed – in just twelve games. That puts them on a pace for 81, their highest total in twenty years. Last year, the Royals had just 66 quality starts. Only three teams in baseball had fewer.
Even when they aren’t “quality”, the Royals starters have gone fairly deep in games. Nine times KC starters have gone six. Only four other teams in baseball can match that.
All four teams the Royals have played are currently under .500; the three teams they are about to play are a combined 25-10. The next eight games will tell us an awful lot about this Royals team. Past teams always looked ripe for a nice, 1-7 trip and many ended just that way. This team appears to have the kind of rotation to make those lost trips a thing of the past.
by Kurtis Seaboldt
The Southeastern Conference has been running a promo on their basketball games all season. It features all fourteen head coaches saying various lines about how and where legends are made. Frank Haith’s line is of interest to me.
“Legends are made in the post-season.”
He’s right. They are made in the post-season. And Frank Haith will enter his third season at Missouri next year still in search of his first NCAA Tournament win. Last year his team got their hearts torn out. Last night they got their butts kicked. They were out-everythinged by Colorado State in an 84-72 loss that marked the Rams’ first NCAA Tournament win in 24 years.
The Tigers’ fans didn’t have to worry about their team blowing this one late. It was done before the under twelve timeout in the second half when the Rams went on a 15-2 run that changed the score from 49-45 to 64-47.
Colorado State had the best rebounding margin in the nation. Missouri was third. These are facts that would have surprised anyone watching this game. The Tigers were beaten on the glass, 42-19. Missouri missed 33 shots. They got three offensive rebounds. One. Two. Three. They had one in the last 24 minutes.
And, again, they seemed like a team that didn’t know what to do or when to do it. Phil Pressey scored a team-high 20 points but he was just 7-for-19 from the field. He shot the ball more than any other two Tigers combined. Jabari Brown was 3-for-10, meaning the two combined to shoot 10-for-29 from the field.
Meanwhile, Alex Oriakhi was 6-for-6 in the paint. I realize that you can’t get him the ball every trip down the court but, when a guy has not missed a shot in more than two games, you find a way to get him more than six shots! Oriakhi finished his college career last night by making his last 16 field goal attempts.
But, of all the lowlights, one moment stood out to me. It was typical of this game, this season, this team. It came with eight minutes left in the game and Missouri down 14. Rams forward Colton Iverson, who outrebounded Mizzou’s starters, 13-10, went out of the game with his fourth foul. Missouri’s ensuing possession consisted of one pass, ten seconds and ended with a missed three-pointer.
Missouri did manage to cut it to seven with about five minutes left but an 8-0 run by Colorado State put the cap on one of the more frustrating seasons in Missouri sports history. All season long we heard how Missouri had too much talent to play the way they did. But they just kept on playing the way they did until there were no more games to lose.
Frank Haith will almost certainly get a third season and he should. But the seat is going to be very hot. Another first round exit would likely be his undoing. After all, as Haith said himself, legends are made in the post-season.
by Kurtis Seaboldt
Many Chiefs fans had been hoping that the team would begin the 2013 season with a starting quarterback named Smith taken in with the first pick in the NFL Draft. They will get their wish, but only by the letter of the law. Call it a loophole, of you will.
Alex Smith won’t officially become a Chief until the NFL’s fiscal year begins on March 12 but, barring injury, the top pick in the 2005 draft will take the team’s first snap of the 2013 season.
That means the Chiefs will likely have a better record in 2013 than they would have if Geno Smith – any other rookie, for that matter – was calling signals. But what does in mean for the long term. Will they be better in 2014? Or 2015? What is the likelihood that Smith will lead KC to that summit they’ve been trying to reach for so many years – a playoff victory? Or even play victories. Plural.
Well, as I often do, I went back to find precedent, good or bad. To be more precise, I tried to find how many quarterbacks fitting Smith’s pedigree went on to lead their teams to success.
In the Super Bowl Era (1966-2012), there have been 29 quarterbacks that have been acquired at the age of 29 or older – that’s the age Smith will be at the beginning of this season – that have won playoff games with that team. Seventeen have led their team to the league or conference championship game. Ten have led their teams to the Super Bowl with three – Jim Plunkett, Doug Williams and Brad Johnson – winning it all.
So, history suggests that Alex Smith has a decent chance of leading the Chiefs to at least one playoff win. But, with the Chiefs sitting there with the first overall pick in the NFL Draft, their fans were hoping the team would acquire a quarterback that can lead them to multiple playoff wins. How many of the above 29 have done that?
Thirteen. Less than half. Bump the number of playoff wins up to three and the class thins out to five. Plunkett won eight. Rich Gannon and Kurt Warner each won four. Williams and Johnson won three apiece.
You might think that the fact that Smith is just 29 gives him a better shot than some in my study group that were acquired later in their careers. But, of the five QB’s signed in that 29-year old season, only one won more than one playoff game. His name is Joe Kapp. Weird, I know.
The first reaction is to say that, if history is correct, Alex Smith has less than a 50-50 chance to lead the Chiefs to more than one playoff win. And his chances of winning three or more is only 1-in-6. But that doesn’t take into account all the quarterbacks signed at 29 or older that never win a playoff game or that never even play in a playoff game. (Sorry, but that would take me until the season opener to track that info down.)
I still think the acquisition makes sense even though the cost was prohibitive. This team assessed the position in the draft and – right or wrong – felt that there was no game changer there. Smith was likely the best option they had and they paid the price necessary for the guy they wanted.
But the likelihood that Smith will lead the Chiefs to a long run of post-season success is, at this point, a bit of a long shot.
by Kurtis Seaboldt
A year ago, in the middle of the final year of the Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri Big 12, we on The Program heard so many calls from fans of each team complaining that the other two teams got all the calls – especially at home – that I decided to put pen to paper and find out. Actually, it was fingers to keyboard but, like, where’s the alliteration, right?
The results were surprising to me and to most others. The only real pattern I could find was that home teams got more calls than road teams. But even that had some oddities. Kansas, with the best home court advantage in the nation, got some love from the officials at Allen Field House but not as much as a number of others.
Missouri, Texas, Iowa State and Kansas State all had a bigger disparity of fouls when they were at home. And KU had the worst disparity – the least amount of love – when they were on the road.
Well, even without Missouri in the mix, the topic of who gets the calls came up again last week and so I put, um, metacarpals to MacBook (Oh, shut up! YOU think of something better!) to see how things have been shaking out this year. Who has been getting the love?
Let’s start with the conference averages. Road teams have again been on the wrong end, having been called for 1.9 more fouls per game than home teams. That, however, is down from last year’s 2.9 per game average.
Kansas, as they did last year, hasn’t gotten a boost from playing at home. In fact, they’ve actually been whistled for one more foul (82-81) than their opponents in games at AFH. Kansas State has also received no benefit from playing at home, averaging about a half-a-foul more per game than their opponents.
The biggest beneficiary of home love is TCU who, on average, has been called for 6.3 fewer fouls than their opponent. Iowa State is second (5.6), followed by Oklahoma (3.2), Oklahoma State (3) and Baylor (2.8). Kansas and Texas are the only two schools that have been called for more fouls than their opponents at home this season.
But Kansas has had a huge advantage on the road. On average, the Jayhawks have been called for 5.5 fewer fouls per game than their opponents when KU is on the road. That’s a difference of 7.4 from the norm. Remember, road teams, on average, are called for 1.9 more fouls than home teams.
The next best road team is Oklahoma State (0.8 fewer fouls) and TCU (0.2 fewer). Every other team has been called for more fouls on the road than their opponents. The worst have been Kansas State (5.8 more), Texas (5.8), Iowa State (5) and Texas Tech (3.8).
There’s some weird stuff going on in those numbers. Kansas and Kansas State have had almost identical seasons at home in this area. But they’re on completely opposite ends of the spectrum when they play on the road. The difference in their foul margin when they are on the road is 11.3 per game (KU -5.5; KSU +5.8)! Iowa State is also odd. They get the most love at home (-5.6) and the third-least love on road (+5).
Part of the imbalance is that the schedule isn’t complete. These numbers will shake out a little bit over the next three to four weeks. But this year and last year have shown as that things aren’t always as we think they are. So, the next time your watching Kansas play at Allen Field House and someone says, “Kansas ALWAYS gets the calls when they’re at home”, you can say, “Actually, they don’t.”