Tag Archives: Kansas Jayhawks

College Basketball Needs the Loathing and Hate of the Missouri versus Kansas Rivalry

Old rivalries die hard. Old rivalries are so ingrained into the fabric of some teams’ psyches that even if two teams no longer play each other, the rivalry continues. Old, dormant rivalries die hard.

This case of old, dormant, raging rivalries is what rears its head each March between fans from Missouri and Kansas.

From the perspective of the Missouri fan, Kansas is being petty for no longer playing the Tigers. More specifically, Bill Self is being petty for objecting to continue the rivalry on the court.

Kansas and Self contend that Missouri ended the rivalry when it accepted the invitation to join the SEC. Missouri left Kansas behind and Self has no intention of letting the programs cuddle. But Self’s Jayhawks continue to be cozy with other former Big 12 members, Nebraska and Colorado.

Kansas fans object to playing Missouri again based on the scorned lover mentality along with the “what’s in it for me” mentality. I mean, seriously, if you’re Kansas, what is in it for you? Missouri just finished up its worse three year period in the history of the program. Why should Kansas feel obligated to schedule another patsy on it schedule?

Now, from the perspective of Missouri, leaving the Big 12 was never anything personal against Kansas. It was just business as they say. The Big 12 was on shaky ground and Missouri jumped at the opportunity to be in a stable conference. Just as Nebraska, Colorado and Texas A&M did.

But none of this killed the rivalry. Far from it. All of this has only enflamed the rivalry.

As Missouri once again sat home in March, the program and fans were the recipients of some overwhelming superb news. Michael Porter Jr., the No. 1 rated recruit in the class of 2017, de-committed from Washington and pledged to play for Cuonzo Martin and the Tigers. Porter Jr. is going home.

[Merenbloom: What Mizzou Assistant Coach Michael Porter Sr. Is All About – Family Values and Humility]

With heads held high and chests puffed out, Missouri fans took to social media to rub Kansas’ nose in it. Look, I get it. Missouri fans haven’t had much to cheer about the last three years and the absence of elite level talent had a lot to do with the misfortune of Kim Anderson’s three year record. Tiger fans have a right to be giddy, to be proud, and to feel like kings and queens of the basketball world. But Tiger Nation needs to slow its roll and put Porter Jr. in perspective before throwing his commitment in the faces of Kansas fans. Kansas gets a lot of players that are similar to Porter Jr. I mean, A LOT of players that are elite.

As Tiger fans were lighting their morning-after cigarettes and basking in the afterglow of signing Porter Jr., Kansas was playing Oregon in the Elite 8. In what amounted to a home game for Kansas, Oregon strolled into the Sprint Center and smacked Kansas in the mouth for 40 minutes. There was no group of fans happier to see this than the Missouri fans sitting at home. I’ll admit it. I was one of those Tiger fans feeling pretty good as I sat on the couch next to my Jayhawk rooting wife. Yea, yea, yea. Dogs and cats living together and all that.

I adore my Tigers. And because of that, I could never root for Kansas. But here’s the thing. As I get older and as I blog from my basement, I have gained perspective. It’s not quite unbiased perspective, but it’s perspective none-the-less.

As Dana Altman and Oregon ride into the Final Four, Missouri fans can’t help but point and laugh at Self. He choked again they all say. Self’s record in the Elite 8 at Kansas is 2-5. He can’t win when it matters most Tiger fans say.

Now for perspective.

Self has been to two Final Fours with Kansas. Self has won a championship with Kansas. What Missouri fan wouldn’t be ecstatic if all of that was on the resume of Missouri basketball?

Old school Missouri fans hold Norm Stewart in god like status. Stewart won 634 games as the coach of his alma mater. But guess what? Stewart never reached the national championship game. Stewart never reached the Final Four. And Stewart, in his 32 years as the Missouri coach, reached the Elite 8 once.

So if you’re a Missouri fan who is claiming that Self under achieves and is a choke artist just spare me. I don’t want to hear it from you. Because, as Missouri fans, you should all know better. A coach isn’t completely defined in March. At least not Stewart.

But after saying all of that, I’ll say this; I get it.

I get it because Missouri versus Kansas is still a rivalry. And it may be one of, if not the best, rivalries in all of college basketball. I mean the teams no longer play each other and the fans are still as passionate as ever with each other.

As for Missouri, Kansas, and Self? You’ll all play each other again. Missouri will find its way back to the tournament and when it does, the tournament committee will place the teams in the same bracket. The tournament is a made for television event and Missouri playing Kansas will be must-see TV. And when this happens, it will be wonderful. The level of loathing and hate will make everything right again in the world of college basketball.

 

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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NCAA Tournament Midwest Region Notebook: Sweet 16 Preview

Heading into the tournament, the Midwest appeared to “chalk” heavy, with the top four seeds expected to advance to the Sweet 16.  That held true for the most part, but #7 seed Michigan busted up the heavyweight party.  Kansas and Oregon have an opportunity to restore order by advancing to the Elite Eight as the highest seeds remaining in the region, while Michigan and Purdue could set up a B1G showdown, guaranteeing a conference rep in the Final Four.

Blitzed by Moritz

Michigan pulled off the upset over #2 seed Louisville on Sunday by going with a heavy dose of Moritz Wagner.  Whereas the Cardinals chose to go away from everything that was working in squandering a nine point second half lead, Michigan repeatedly went to Wagner.  Time and time again the Wolverines set up pick and roll opportunities to exploit Louisville’s switching defense, leaving Wagner isolated on smaller defenders.  John Beilein executed on the under used mantra of running the same play until the opponent stops it.  The Cardinals never did, and Michigan is now set up for the Sweet 16 showdown with Oregon.  It’ll be interesting if Beilein will be able to utilize as much of Moritz against the athletic frontcourt of Oregon, or if the three-point barrage which was missing for much of the game against Louisville will be the weapon of choice.

Big Man Boiling Over

It’s no surprise that as Purdue has found its way to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament that Caleb Swanigan has by and large been the driving force behind it.  Swanigan has absolutely gone ballistic, displaying all the prowess which made him a blue-chip recruit; and now has him emerging as an absolute star.  After hitting Vermont with 16 points and 14 rebounds in the Round of 64, he dropped 20 and 12 on Iowa State, along with an astonishing 7 assists.  The Boilermakers are facing a different animal in the Kansas Jayhawks.  Bill Self’s team has been playing at a high level which is expected of a #1 seed.  As I mentioned prior to the tournament, the one possible sore spot for the Jayhawks is in the frontcourt.  Swanigan has enough help in the frontcourt to allow him to continue the tear that he’s on.  Don’t bet against the big man from being the difference maker if Purdue upends Kansas.

Putting the Chalk in Rock Chalk

March is the time of year when it can become en vogue for bracket filler-outers to pick against Kansas.  There have been several occasions where it would make sense to do so; and it appeared that with a Round of 32 draw against Michigan State, that 2017 would be one of those occasions.  The Jayhawks have shown through the first two rounds that was not a good idea.  Not only has Kansas won, but the Jayhawks have won big.  Not that anyone expected UC Davis to give Bill Self’s squad any fits, but many (myself included) thought that Tom Izzo’s Spartans would make the Rock Chalk faithful sweat a bit.  Kansas has an awful lot of experience, particularly in the backcourt, where it matters most come tournament time.  Frank Mason III is the catalyst, and he will be critical for the Jayhawks to continue to march on this March.  Facing a Purdue team that has its legs underneath it, after such disappointment in last year’s tournament, will be no easy task.

No Ugly Ducklings

Dana Altman’s Oregon Ducks are the other remaining team in the Midwest, but that does not make them an afterthought.  Oregon was another team that had some questions coming in to the Big Dance, and seemed susceptible to being bounced early.  The Ducks are another example of experience paying off in large measure.  Tyler Dorsey has been a beast in the first two games, and Dillon Brooks has been a steady star.  Despite being on the ropes against Rhode Island much of the game on Sunday, the veteran Oregon crew found a way back, and wiggled into the Sweet 16.  One of the biggest concerns – the loss of Chris Boucher – has not come back to bite the Ducks to this point.  The players seem to have taken the route of motivation as opposed to desperation regarding their fallen teammate.  The Ducks have the firepower and are more than capable of dispatching Michigan’s team of destiny.

The Elite Eight will be set in the Midwest by the close of business on Thursday night.  The guard play of Kansas will provide enough of an edge to outlast Caleb Swanigan’s heroics, and the Jayhawks will send Purdue with some nice memories, but nothing more.  Michigan on the other hand continues their path to destiny, at least for right now.  Seniors Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin will provide the steady guidance, and Beilein will blitz the Ducks with more Moritz to shoot down Oregon.  After getting their revenge on Louisville from the 2013 tourney, Michigan will give Kansas a crack at their own form of revenge from that same tournament.  The Jayhawks and Wolverines will battle for a spot in Phoenix.

E-mail Damon at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

2017 NCAA Tournament: Midwest Region Notebook

Good fortune finds that the region that I happened to be covering turned out to be the only part of the bracket I predicted 100% correctly after the Round of 64.  No real surprises, as the top seeds took care of things in a business like fashion; and the only higher seeds to advance – #9 Michigan State and #11 Rhode Island – were anticipated.  The Round of 32 presents some intriguing match-ups as the first weekend of the Big Dance commences.

Close but no Cigar

I mentioned in my tournament preview on Thursday that the Midwest felt like a bracket that would not have much in the way of double-digit upsets.  The teams I felt were most likely, if any, to pull off upsets were Vermont and Nevada.  I make the mistake every year of picking a few too many of the 11-13 seeds to advance out of the Round of 64.  In customary fashion, both of these schools played very well, and hung tough for the majority of their respective games, but in the end Purdue and Iowa State were able to outlast the upstarts.  No surprise that Monte Morris led the way for the Cyclones, and B1G player of the year Caleb Swanigan did the most damage for the Boilermakers.  This sets up a 4/5 tilt between two schools recently plagued by early tournament failures, and something’s gotta give.

Wolverines continue their tear; have a shot at Revenge

The #4 seed Michigan Wolverines kept on rolling, outlasting Oklahoma State 92-91 in one of the more entertaining opening round games.  Senior Derrick Walton Jr. led the way with 26 points and 11 assists, setting up a Sunday afternoon showdown with Louisville.  The Cardinals once again got off to a shaky start, allowing themselves to fall into a 10-2 hole, before taking the lead permanently with just under seven minutes left in the first half.  The Cards got surprisingly strong contributions from big men Mangok Mathiang and Ray Spalding in order to outlast Jacksonville State.  Michigan has an opportunity to grab a little revenge, as John Beilien’s Wolverines fell in the 2013 National Championship game to Rick Pitino’s Cardinals.

Ram Tough

Dan Hurley’s Rhode Island team handily dispatched #6 Creighton, lining up one of the match-ups I was most looking forward to in this tournament, a date with the #3 seed Oregon Ducks.  All five starters scored in double figures, led by freshman Jeff Dowtin, who along with E.C. Matthews, went 10-10 from the free throw line.  The Rams will need every bit of toughness they have in them, as Oregon handled their business the way the tops seeds should, running up 55 points in the first half, and cruising to victory.  When Dana Altman’s team exerts all of their talent, the Ducks are elite.  This will be a fun game on Sunday.

This is Sparta!

The 2016-17 instillation of the Michigan State Spartans isn’t the typical powerhouse that Tom usually has at his disposal.  Coach Izzo knows how to pull the right strings at the right times, and now is presented with a golden opportunity to knock out top-seeded Kansas.  The Spartans thumped the Miami Hurricanes, and now await the Jayhawks, who, as expected, destroyed UC Davis to move into the Round of 32.  What was expected was the performance of Michigan State’s powerful freshman Miles Bridges and Nick Ward.  The keys on Sunday will be how Izzo’s club deals with the Kansas backcourt, particularly Frank Mason III, and whether the Jayhawks have enough support for senior Landen Lucas on the interior, in order to keep him on the floor.  I like Bill Self’s team to get through, but it may be a battle of attrition.

The Midwest Region is set up to have an outstanding Sweet 16.  Purdue or Iowa State will grab the first slot as that game caps off the action on Saturday night; then everyone else will fill in the gaps on Sunday.  Here’s hoping I can keep one clean region, and have each of my picks roll through, including #11 seed Rhode Island, there to upset the apple cart, and close out the opening weekend of the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

E-mail Damon at  or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

NCAA Tournament: Midwest Region Preview

At first blush, the Midwest Region seems to be destined to have the top seeds represented in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8; but questions abound for Kansas, Louisville, and Oregon as the opening rounds approach.  Although most of the double-digit seeds in this region don’t appear to pose a serious threat, there’s at least one that may knock heads with the big boys.

Jayhawks are going to Kansas City, Kansas City here they come!

There’s no reason to suspect that the Kansas Jayhawks shouldn’t find their way to KC, but will they be able to go any further?  Bill Self’s team had another incredible season, scattering four losses throughout the year, including bookends in the season opener, and to close the season in the Big 12 semifinals.   Despite their immensely talented backcourt led by Frank Mason III, Devonte Graham, and Josh Jackson, the Jayhawks frontcourt is a bit thin.  Could a potential matchup with Michigan State and the Spartan’s tough frontcourt combo of Miles Bridges and Nick Ward be too much for Landen Lucas to handle on his own?  This is the time of year that Tom Izzo starts working his magic, but if he can’t, top seeded Kansas should be bound for Kansas City, and a shot to advance out of the Midwest Regional Final.

Cardinals need more Dr. Jekyll, less Mr. Hyde

Louisville may be the one of deepest and most talented teams in the Midwest region, and perhaps the country.  However, the biggest issue this team has shown has been its wild personality swings.  Particularly glaring during late season losses to Wake Forest and Duke, the Cards have displayed a propensity to squander big leads.  UofL can dominate the vast majority of a game, only to completely go away from everything that is working.  Those lapses are what terrify and infuriate the Louisville fan base.  What is most shocking is that this tendency manifested early in the season during Louisville’s first loss of the year to Baylor.  The Cardinals let a 22 point lead slip before falling to the Bears in the Bahamas.  That may just be the identity of this year’s version of the Louisville Cardinals.  I suspect that Rick Pitino will tighten up the rotation, which should provide more cohesiveness; and Donovan “Spida” Mitchell is the type of player that can carry a team into early April.  If the Cards are Dr. Jekyll, they could win it all; if they’re Mr. Hyde, it could be a very early exit.

Rough Rhode ahead for the Ducks

Oregon has spent the entire 2016-17 season among the nation’s elite teams, and still has a loaded roster, and excellent coach in Dana Altman to lead them deep into this tournament.  Much will depend on the way the Ducks respond to the loss of versatile 6-10 senior Chris Boucher.  While Boucher was important, this team goes as junior Dillon Brooks goes.  However, the injury essentially cost Oregon a seed line, which is ridiculous since seeding should be based on a team’s body of work.  Will the Duck’s be ultra-motivated by the injury and a little bit of a slight by the committee, or will these late season factors lead to a bit of a malaise?  I’m leaning toward the latter.  Assuming Oregon survives the Round of 64 against Iona, the Ducks may be in for a rude awakening in the Round of 32 against Rhode Island.

Rams are a dark horse?

Don’t sleep on Rhode Island.  As mentioned above, URI could be a serious stumbling block for Oregon should they run into each other in the Round of 32.  The Rams were sitting squarely on the bubble, and then ripped off eight wins in a row, and took the Atlantic 10 Tournament title to ensure a spot in the field.  Dan Hurley’s squad has solid inside-outside balance with E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin; and has shown a ton of grit down the stretch.  In a region that appears to be set up for the chalk to advance, Rhode Island is poised to make a run.  Certainly the opener against the Creighton Blue Jays will be no cakewalk, but if the Rams escape, there’s no reason that Hurley’s club can’t bounce the 3 seed Oregon, and find themselves in the Sweet 16.

Perfect storm for the Cyclones

Over the last few seasons, Iowa State has been a huge disappointment (I know they’ve killed my bracket), but the path the Cyclones face may be tailor-made to make amends.   I loved the Steve Prohm hire when Fred Hoiberg bolted for the NBA; and although it took some time to come together, ISU has the pieces in place to do some damage this year.  A rare senior-laden team in college basketball, the Cyclones are in great hands, particularly with Naz Long and Monte Morris.  After several bitter tournament showings, look for Iowa State to get past #4 seed Purdue, to set up another Big 12 showdown with rival Kansas in the Sweet 16.

North Carolina Central and UC Davis will square off on Wednesday for the right to be the first roadblock for the Jayhawks on their way to a cozy spot in Kansas City.  There should be a lot of answers about the Midwest Region when the Round of 32 wraps up on Friday evening, but don’t be surprised if there are even more questions.

E-mail Damon at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.

Photo via Flickr/Brett Hurd

The Real Madness of March

Every year, I spend far more time and energy than I should filling out my NCAA Tournament March Madness bracket.  I debate whether chalk or Cinderella’s will prevail.  I agonize over which 12-5 upsets are ripe for the picking.  I look at strength of schedule and see who beat who, as if that matters.  Then, I spend the entire tournament second guessing myself.

Inevitably, I get caught in between rooting for my bracket and cheering for those Cinderella’s that capture our hearts.  It ends up being a very stressful month and at the end, I never feel like I have fully enjoyed what is truly an amazing sporting event.

I like to act as if I know what I’m talking about when predicting these games.  Really, I don’t.  None of us do.  Why bother pretending?  It’s not like I’m a big college basketball fan anyway.  I mean, sure, I watch the tournament religiously.  The first Thursday and Friday of games are days that I believe should be national holidays.  Why play the charade of going to work and acting like I’m not watching online?  I am.  #SorryNotSorry (I am, however, sorry I just used that expression. #NeverAgain)

Anyway, when it comes to regular season college basketball, I never watch many games.  This season though, that’s never been truer.  Confession: I watched a grand total of three full college basketball games this winter.  The complete list: Mt. St. Mary’s vs. Michigan (I was actually in attendance), Xavier vs. Cincinnati (Go Bearcats! #BeatX), and Tulsa vs. Cincinnati (Again, I was in attendance).

So, yeah, I don’t really have any idea what went on this college basketball season.  (Though, I hear tripping people has become a hot button issue.)  What I do know, from hardly following along, is that there was a lot of movement in the Top 25.  It seems to me that this is one of those years where there are a ton of good teams in the field, but not many great ones.  Is that a fair assessment?  Honestly, I’m asking.

Let’s highlight some things as I take my first look at the bracket.  (That’s right; I didn’t watch the selection show either.)

East

Hey!  Mt. St. Mary’s made the field… sorta.  The only first round upsets I have here are Marquette over South Carolina and New Mexico State over that Baptist school in Waco, Texas.  Give me Virginia over Florida in the second round.  Other than that, there’s nothing too exciting.  Looks like an easy path to the Final Four for defending champion Villanova.

Midwest

Woo, lots going on here.  First, Michigan State got lucky.  The Spartans are bad but the Hurricanes sound beatable.  The rest of the first round seems pedestrian but man, look at these possible second round matchups.  Kansas vs. Michigan State is enough said.  Iowa State meets Purdue in a battle of teams with high hopes.  Creighton vs. Oregon will be fun.  And Michigan gets a shot at revenge against Louisville.  I’m still upset about 2013 and, as a result, I’m going into full homer mode.  The Wolverines beat the Cardinals, the Ducks, and the Jayhawks on their way to Phoenix.  (#SorryNotSorry… Damnit, that didn’t last long.)

West

Smart guy alert in the 8-9 matchup as Northwestern and Vanderbilt get together.  Wait, the Northwestern Wildcats made the NCAA Tournament!  Congrats to them.  I’ll even pencil in an opening round win for them before getting smacked by Gonzaga.  Give me the other smart guys at Princeton to pull the upset on Notre Dame.  On the bottom half, I’m going a little upset crazy.  Florida Gulf Coast makes another run to the second weekend with wins over Florida State and Maryland.  And St. Mary’s finds its way to the Elite Eight for a fourth try at besting West Coast Conference rival Gonzaga.  You know what they say, “it’s tough to beat a team twice, thrice, four times in the same season.”  Well, Gonzaga will.

South

I’ve got Seton Hall beating Arkansas for the same reasons I have Marquette beating South Carolina.  I’m Catholic and the SEC is still a terrible basketball conference, until proven otherwise.  Middle Tennessee State earns its second tourney win over a Big Ten opponent in as many years, my second 12 over 5.  Cincinnati will beat UCLA with a superior defense the likes of which the Bruins have never come up against.  Unfortunately for my adopted school, the Kentucky Wildcats will be waiting in the Sweet Sixteen.  North Carolina will be able to handle Coach Cal’s bunch en route to yet another Final Four.

Final Four

Last year’s championship game was so phenomenal, why not have a rematch?  Michigan and Gonzaga fall victim to destiny.  This time around, Villanova won’t need a buzzer beater.  The Wildcats will repeat, beating North Carolina quite easily.

There you have it.  Now all that’s left to do is wait until Thursday so I can hide my internet browser behind some important-looking work stuff and enjoy this damn thing for once.

I recommend you do the same, but don’t expect many of you to.  That chance at glory is too tantalizing to pass up, isn’t it?  Yes, you’d rather drive yourself crazy trying to arrive at the perfect bracket that you’ll literally never achieve.

And to you all I say have fun losing your group for the umpteenth time to your aunt who bases her picks on the team mascots.  After all, this is the real madness of March.

E-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll send you back an invite to my bracket group.  Should be easy to beat me since I’m not trying, right?

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Jeff Rosen and the Kansas City Star are Attempting to Hold Bill Self Accountable

Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks have wrapped up their 13th straight Big 12 regular season championship, but that isn’t the story that is taking up precious time as Kansas City sports fans gather around their watercoolers. If the Jayhawk’s dominance of the Big 12 isn’t what’s receiving the focus of Kansas City area sports fans, then surely, it’s Self’s apparent lenient stance on would be disciplinary issues. But that isn’t truly the case either. What is catching the ire of these fans is the apparent blind eye that the Kansas City Star sports department has given the legal and disciplinary issues surrounding Self’s program.

Many Kansas City area sports fans believe that the Kansas City Star shows favoritism towards Kansas basketball. Most, if not all, of those fans cheer for the Missouri Tigers. See? The teams don’t have to play for the rivalry to still be going strong. The truth of the matter is that the Star has reported on all of the recent allegations against Self’s Jayhawks.

The Star has written numerous articles regarding the situation involving Josh Jackson and McKenzie Calvert. The newspaper reported on the allegations against Legerald Vick. Kansas City Star reporters also didn’t shy away from reporting on the suspected rape of a 16-year-old girl which was suspected to have occurred in a university dormitory. Five players, including potential player of the year Frank Mason, were listed as witnesses to the alleged rape. The Star also reported on the domestic violence allegations filed against Carlton Bragg as well as reporting on the drug paraphernalia that he was found to be in possession of.

Kansas City Star sports editor, Jeff Rosen, has taken heat on social media over how his sports department has handled all the turmoil surrounding the Kansas basketball team. Among the criticism that Rosen has endured is the belief that he and his staff have not held Self accountable for the actions of his players or for the disciplinary measures Self has chosen to apply to his problem players. But the Star recently published the following article – Editorial: Off-court troubles have cast a cloud over Kansas basketball.

In response to Self’s nonchalant public attitude surrounding the current environment in Lawrence, the Star’s staff had this to say in their collective editorial:

In fact, the real disappointment was Self’s public response to these incidents.

His supervisors aren’t off the hook, either. Everyone from the Board of Regents on down should insist on the highest standards of behavior from all students, especially those who wear the school’s name on their shirts — and the people who coach them.

There is only so much a media outlet can do in situations like this. In defense of Rosen and the Star, the newspaper continues to write articles on these situations and continues to ask follow-up questions to Self. Rosen can’t make Self answer the questions posed by his team of reporters. But what Rosen can and has done is have his staff continue to press Self on these issues.

 

Fans from rival programs may not like the answers being spouted by Self, but that isn’t Rosen’s problem. It would be Rosen’s problem if he was ignoring the issues surrounding the Jayhawks and/or ignoring Self’s reluctance to be transparent. But neither of those things are the reality of the situation. Rosen and his writers are doing their jobs and we should all allow them to continue doing so. Who knows? With a little patience, they just may be able to crack Self and his nonchalant attitude.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Alabama Football is Too Big To Fail

As the NCAA was peering over the shoulder of Hugh Freeze, the Ole Miss football coach was consistent in his vehement refutation of all of the claims against him and his program. Freeze went as far as to imply that the NCAA’s investigation was based on religious persecution as he compared himself to his Lord and Savior. Motivation aside, the NCAA has accused Freeze of having a lack of institutional control to go along with 15 Level I violations.

Paying recruits is among the specific allegations that comprise Freeze’s alleged transgressions on the recruiting trail. This allegation becomes stickier when one of those recruits in question didn’t make Ole Miss his home. A logical assumption is that if the recruit accepted payment from a program that he turned down that it’s easy to believe that the same recruit accepted money from the program that he ultimately chose to play for. This is what’s been suggested to have occurred with Leo Lewis. Lewis allegedly accepted money from Ole Miss only to turn around and commit to Mississippi State. And it’s at this point that the NCAA finds itself in the same philosophical dilemma that it has placed itself in time and time again.

As a governing body, the NCAA has been anything but fair and balanced. The NCAA has a history of playing favorites and turning a blind eye to justice when the member institution is considered to be a blue-blood program. To say that the NCAA has shown a lack of institutional control when levying justice is an understatement. This certainly doesn’t make the NCAA judiciary arm different from any other governing body but that also doesn’t excuse its practice of selective enforcement.

Alabama has been a recent beneficiary of the NCAA’s protocol of selective enforcement. There was a long paper trail documenting the funneling of benefits between former Crimson Tide player Luther Davis and D.J. Fluker. Davis acted as the go-between for Fluker, NFL agents, and financial advisors.

Yahoo Sports was able to authenticate text message records, Western Union fund transfers, banking statements, flight receipts and other financial material linking both Davis and the five college football players. Yahoo Sports also found that three NFL agents and three financial advisers engaged Davis in transactions totaling $45,550. The three agents were Andy Simms, Peter Schaffer and John Phillips. The financial advisers were Jason Jernigan, Mike Rowan and Hodge Brahmbhatt.

Even with the case that could be made against Alabama and some of the individuals close to the program, the NCAA lacked the time to go after Nick Saban and Alabama. And that poses the million-dollar question; what is the NCAA afraid of? To me, that’s an easy question to answer. The NCAA is afraid of going after one of its blue-bloods because it’s afraid of what that could mean to its overall brand. Alabama is worth too much to bring down what Saban has built in Tuscaloosa.

It is true that the NCAA placed Alabama football on probation once before, but that wasn’t under the shadow of the current economic landscape of college football. Alabama has too much market and intrinsic value in the modern day business model. Simply put, Alabama football is considered too big to fail and, because of that, the Crimson Tide are essentially allowed to make its own rules.

The Fluker accusations were not the only ones surrounding Alabama. There was also the situation that former assistant coach Bo Davis placed Alabama in. And when I say “placed Alabama in,” I really mean the situation that Davis placed himself in. Davis was accused of contacting recruits during the dead period and the NCAA did engage in a small investigation. Based on its lack of action against Alabama, the NCAA considered this a case of no-harm-no-foul once Davis resigned.

Davis submitted his resignation on April 28. He was then paid $316,666.66 on August 19. The reason given for this payment was “to resolve disputed claims related to his separation from the university.” Once that payment of $316,666.66 was factored in, Davis made more than the $475,000 that Alabama had set his 2016 compensation at. That strikes me as a payoff to keep his mouth shut about what he witnessed and took part in while on the Alabama coaching staff. But like I said, Alabama is considered too big to fail.

The NCAA has a rich and storied history when it comes to wielding its selective sword of justice. In addition to what the NCAA has allowed Alabama to get away with, there are numerous examples of the NCAA engaging in questionable enforcement procedures when it comes to its basketball programs.

Going all the way back to when Roy Williams was the basketball coach at the University of Kansas, the NCAA went easy on his Jayhawk program when investigating the ties between Tom Grant, Myron Piggie and JaRon Rush.

Once Williams left the Jayhawks for the North Carolina Tar Heel job, he played dumb as the NCAA questioned how he ran his Kansas program. Again, nothing substantial came out of this NCAA investigation.

How about the FBI investigation that Bill Self’s team found itself attached to? Yes, I said FBI investigation. Did this receive much attention from the NCAA? It did not.

And there was the ticket scandal that occurred at Kansas while Lew Perkins was the athletic director. This included the concealing of income statements that were provided to the NCAA. But, as you probably guessed, nothing came out of this.

The NCAA had an issue with one of its investigators, Abigail Grantstein. Grantstein, who graduated from Kansas, was eventually fired for bungling the investigations into UCLA recruit Shabazz Muhammad and Kansas recruit Josh Selby. Both UCLA and Kansas got off easy.

Perhaps the real cake topper in how the NCAA operates was on display as Miami basketball was being investigated. The NCAA had Nevin Shapiro’s attorney on its payroll as Maria Elena Perez was caught sharing privileged information with the NCAA.

The NCAA claims to stand for integrity and claims to support what is in the best interest of the college athletes. Nothing could be further from the truth. The NCAA cares about itself and what it considers to be in its best interest. And what’s in the best interest of the NCAA is for its blue-bloods to remain successful.

If your school isn’t on par with Alabama football or Kansas basketball, you had better hope that your school doesn’t offer a recruit an impermissible cheeseburger. But if your school is on par with Alabama or Kansas? Let the payments and benefits flow.

This is what will help contain the damage that would have otherwise have been inflicted by an in-depth NCAA investigation into the former Ole Miss football recruits. We should expect the NCAA to go just far enough as to take down Ole Miss, but not far enough to clean the entire situation up. If the NCAA did go all the way with the investigation, a school like Alabama could get caught in the cross hairs. And that’s the last thing the NCAA wants.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Who Will be the 2017 National Signing Day Diamonds in the Rough?

It’s all about the stars, baby! It’s all about those 4 and 5-star future All-Americans who will catapult your favorite college football team to a national championship. Collecting a stable of primetime players may be easy for coaches like Urban Meyer and Nick Saban but that kind of success on the recruiting trail just isn’t the reality of the situation for the majority of coaches. If your team isn’t considered to be a football blue-blood, success is going to be a process that is built upon 2 and 3-star recruits who will need time to be developed.

But success can be achieved with these so-called “diamonds in the rough.” It’s not an easy path to success, but it can and has been done. Rivals and 247 don’t have crystal balls that will clue us into who these diamonds in the rough will be. Even the most experienced coaching staffs can’t predict which of their less heralded recruits will lead their teams to divisional and conference championships.

With today being National Signing Day, let’s take a look back and some 2 and 3-star recruits from the past who proved to have significant impacts on the field.

Marcus Mariota was barely recruited before signing with Oregon. He was a 3-star recruit with two scholarship offers. Oregon and Memphis. That was it. All Mariota did was lead Oregon to an appearance in the 2015 National Championship game and he won the 2014 Heisman Trophy. Not bad for a recruit who struggled to receive offers.

I can’t imagine Michigan State fans were waiting with eager anticipation for the day a 2-star running back recruit with offers from Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan, and Marshall would step on the field for them. All Le’Veon Bell did in his Spartan career was rush for 3,346 yards and 33 touchdowns. In his junior season, before leaving early for the NFL, Bell rushed for 1,793 yards and 12 touchdowns. He proved to be more talented than a 2-star recruit with mid-major offers.

Missouri’s Charles Harris makes Bell look like a highly sought after recruit. Harris excelled on the high school basketball court and had barely played any football prior to Missouri offering him a scholarship. His options were Northern Iowa, Missouri Western and Pittsburg State. In his three-year career, Harris recorded 18 sacks, 34.5 tackles-for-loss and forced 5 fumbles.

Jordy Nelson committed to Kansas State as a 2-star safety prospect. His options were Kansas State and Kansas but even those weren’t legitimate options. Neither coaching staff was willing to provide a scholarship offer to Nelson so he attended Kansas State as a walk-on. Nelson holds the Kansas State record for most receiving yards in a single season and is 2nd all-time in career receiving yardage. Not bad for a high school player that nobody wanted.

Gaines Adams was a 3-star tight end recruit who chose Clemson over Michigan State, North Carolina, Virginia, and Virginia Tech. Compared to the others on this list, Adams offer list made him look like a blue-chip recruit. Not only was he not a blue-chip recruit, tight end wasn’t even his ultimate position. Adams became a first team All-American and ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2006.

As fans, we like to get all worked up over National Signing Day. How many 4 and 5-star recruits has our team collected? Which kids pulled a signing day surprise and left our team at the alter? Which players did our team’s coaching staff manage to flip? It can be an entertaining soap opera to follow, but none of us have a clue as to how the story will unfold.

My advice to you is this – Have fun with recruiting, but don’t become so invested in it that a signing class ruins your day. None of us will know the verifiable quality of this recruiting class for another few years. Enjoy the ride, because who knows, maybe your team has a diamond-in-the-rough buried in this recruiting class.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Flickr.com

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The Best and Worst of 2016: Big 12

The Big 12 Conference had a pretty forgettable year on and off the field in 2016. The conference was shut out from the College Football Playoff again and hit rock bottom in terms of conference prestige.

But not everything was a complete disaster. Here are some of the best and worst games in the Big 12 last season.

Best Games of 2016

Texas vs. Notre Dame

Texas is back” is what college football fans heard on the Sunday of Labor Day. The Longhorns kicked off the season with a thrilling double overtime win over 10th-ranked Notre Dame. It appeared very briefly that Texas would make some national noise, but finished 5-7 instead. And despite the game being fool’s gold because of Notre Dame also being highly overrated, it was still arguably the best game for a Big 12 team, especially in the non-conference schedule.

TCU vs. Oklahoma

This was a game many thought TCU could win, especially with Oklahoma’s early struggles. The Sooners ran away with the game in the first three quarters before TCU mounted a strong comeback. They had an opportunity to win in the end, but it ended up being an Oklahoma victory 52-46. The win was the beginning of some serious momentum for Oklahoma that propelled them into an eventual top-10 finish in the polls.

TCU vs. Texas Tech

This game may not have looked pretty, but it was highly entertaining. In what was expected to be a shootout, no one could have predicted the score to be tied at 17 at the end of regulation. The Red Raiders won on the road in double overtime 27-24 after the TCU kicker missed a short field goal on the first possession in double OT. In true Texas Tech fashion, they played conservatively and kicked a game winning field goal. A fitting end to one of the most surprising results of the Big 12 season.

Honorable Mention: Kansas State vs. Texas A&M and Oklahoma State vs. Colorado

It’s worth mentioning these two bowl games together because it’s always good for the conference when a team beats a former conference mate. Kansas State beating Texas A&M was a true shocker, and no one expected Oklahoma State to handle Colorado the way they did. These games really helped the perception of the Big 12 during the bowl season.

Worst Games of 2016

Oklahoma vs. Ohio State

The final score showed Ohio State winning 45-24, but anyone watching the game knows it was much worse than that. This was supposed to be the game to put Oklahoma and the Big 12 on the map. Instead, the Sooners got embarrassed by the Buckeyes at home. It capped off a rough start for Oklahoma, who eventually would win the conference. Which raises the question: just how far behind is the Big 12 when it comes to being nationally relevant?

Texas Tech vs. Oklahoma

This game was just purely embarrassing for the Big 12. With the final score of 66-59, how can you really claim either team won? The teams should have just rested their defenses and let the offense play against air. It would have been the same result. I have no problem with a high scoring game, but this one got out of hand. A big embarrassment for the conference, to say the least.

Kansas vs. Texas

Big 12 critics seem to think the conference won’t be relevant again until Texas and Oklahoma are both top-10 teams again. Texas proved they have a long way to go after losing to lowly Kansas. It’s easy to say this was the worst game of the Big 12 season, but you can’t take away that much from Kansas. You can. This was an awful game from start to finish. Kansas snapped their 23-game losing streak to FBS opponents and Texas finally hit rock bottom. No one truly won this game, and the conference took a huge hit to its reputation as a result.

Honorable Mention: Oklahoma State vs. Central Michigan

You may not have seen a wilder finish to a game than this one. The referees admitted a mistake on their part, which gave Central Michigan one last chance with an untimed down. They threw up a Hail Mary, which got lateraled back and ran across the field for a touchdown. Cowboys fans will want to forget this one forever.

Iowa State vs. Texas Tech

Overshadowed by Texas’ loss to Kansas, Texas Tech managed to lose 66-10 to Iowa State on the same day. I’m not even sure how that’s possible on either side of the scoreboard, but somehow it happened. As if anyone wanted to really watch this game anyway.

Well, there you have it. Time to close the book now on the 2016 Big 12 football season as being one to forget. But hey, look at the bright side, the conference can’t get much worse in 2017!

Or can it?

E-mail Chase at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo: Wikimedia

Hoosiers Fall as Soon as They Rise

The Indiana Hoosiers were finally back on top.  They had beaten Kansas in their opener, and after a few years of mediocrity (relative to Indiana basketball history) Tom Crean finally had his boys headed in the right direction.

Even ESPN couldn’t ignore the hype, placing the Bloomington Basketball Boys at the very top spot of its latest power rankings (by the way, Indiana was in the 14 spot the week before).  That’s right, it was Indiana first, then Kentucky, Villanova (defending National Champs), Kansas, Duke, Louisville, North Carolina. That’s a big list of big programs.

You know what big time programs have in common? They don’t lose regular season games to mid-major opponents.

If you haven’t heard, the same week Indiana jumped 14 spots to number one on ESPN’s power rankings, they lost to the Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne Mastodons, more commonly known as IPFW, in overtime.

What a way to solidify your spot at the top, right?

Well, it was an away game for Indiana, which had to shift the odds just a little bit, right?

Please.

Indiana basketball is to Indiana what Kentucky basketball is to Kentucky, or what Ohio State football is to Ohio. If Kentucky were to travel to Newport to play Northern Kentucky, the stadium would be full of blue and white.  If Ohio State were to travel to Bowling Green, you would be hard pressed to find any orange and brown in the crowd.

It was no different for the Hoosiers last night in Fort Wayne’s Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.  Bloomington, the home of Indiana University, is around a three-hour drive from Ft Wayne, so fans from the far eastern part of the state that don’t generally get a chance to see their beloved Hoosiers gobbled tickets up. In fact, tickets to the game sold out in less than an hour.

How did this happen?

Indiana’s starting five included a former three-star recruit, three former four-stars, and a five-star.

IPFW’s starting five consisted of three guys that weren’t ranked as high school recruits, plus a two-star, and a three-star transfer.

That three-star transfer, Fort Wayne native Bryson Scott, shot 50 percent from the field while scoring 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds (he’s 6’1”).  It was the first time Scott had ever amassed over 10 rebounds in a game.

As you can expect from a 71-68 game, the numbers in each statistical category were pretty similar.  Indiana had a slight edge in rebounds, free throw percentage, and field goal percentage.  The most lopsided categories fell IPFW’s way as the Mastodons accumulated 11 steals to Indiana’s four and seven blocks to the Hoosiers’ three.  Indiana finished with 15 turnovers, seven more than IPFW’s eight.

As far as Indiana and its fans are concerned, though, none of that matters.

Indiana has been revealed as a phony and we’re only a few weeks into the season.  With a non-conference schedule that includes North Carolina, Butler and Louisville, plus a tough Big Ten slate, you can probably expect quite a few losses from the Hoosiers, and don’t even think about a national title.

This is a knee-jerk reaction based on one bad result.

No it’s not.  This is an educated prediction based on NCAA history.  I’m not claiming the Hoosiers won’t win the Big Ten or make the tournament, but you’d be hard pressed to go back in history and find a team, ANY TEAM, that has lost to a mid-major opponent and proceeded to prove itself a championship contender.

That’s my challenge to you, actually. Find me a team that matches that description and tweet it to me @evanskilliter or email me at [email protected].  I’ll be happy to hear from you.

E-mail Evan at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @evanskilliter.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons