KSAL Staff - February 1, 2016 8:00 am
MAC STEVENSON LIVES IN SALINA, AND WRITES A WEEKLY COLUMN FOR OVER TEN NEWSPAPERS IN KANSAS
The Big 12 earned some justification for their rating as the best overall basketball conference in the nation with their drubbing of the SEC last weekend. Big 12 teams won 7 and lost 3 in the SEC/Big 12 challenge.
Oklahoma secured their number-one national rating with a come-from-behind win against LSU in Baton Rouge. OU’s guard Buddy Hield was his usual remarkable self, scoring 32 points and moving ahead of the Tigers’ freshman phenom Ben Simmons (15 points) in the race for best college player in the nation.
Kansas had the most prestigious win of the day, beating Kentucky 90-84 in overtime. KU coach Bill Self’s strategy to play a triangle-and-two zone in the second half was the difference; Kentucky’s John Calipari couldn’t find an answer to the Jayhawks’ second-half defense. Self outcoached Calipari.
Even though it was a nonconference win, beating Kentucky was vital for the Jayhawks to get back on track for the stretch run in the Big 12 race. Self played freshmen forwards Cheick Diallo and Carlton Bragg 10 and 11 minutes in the first half and they acquitted themselves well. Bragg hit 3 of 5 shots and Diallo 1 of 2. After the game, Self said, “Cheick and Carlton bailed us out. They came in and did a great job.”
If Kansas is going to have an exceptional team that has a chance to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, Self is going to have to start giving Diallo and Bragg and freshman guard Lagerald Vick more playing time. They aren’t going to improve sitting on the bench.
Kansas State and Kansas resume their rivalry on Wednesday, February 3, at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence. On paper it looks like a mismatch, but rivalry games aren’t played on paper. After the K-State-KU game, the Wildcats play at home against Oklahoma on Saturday (Feb. 6) and the Jayhawks have a road game at TCU.
Kansas State recorded an impressive win (69-64) against Mississippi in the conference challenge. The victory was notable, but some of the stats were not. K-State hit just 3 of 19 shots from the 3-point line and had 18 turnovers.
Equally troubling, the Wildcats had their point guard, Kamau Stokes, go out in the first half against Ole Miss with an apparent knee injury. If Stokes is lost for the KU game, it’s going to be a blow to K-State’s chances.
It’s a formidable challenge for either team to win away from home in this basketball rivalry and this season will be no exception. Kansas has a big edge in talent and depth and experience; regardless, K-State is a much better team than expected and the Wildcats have been competitive in every game.
KU has been inconsistent and a perfect example is small forward Wayne Selden; he had a career high of 33 points in the Kentucky win. But he can turn around and disappear in the next game. Selden can’t be expected to score 33 points very often, but he shouldn’t slump to single digits either.
Kansas cannot afford any more defeats against teams they should beat; TCU will be one of those games. The Jayhawks haven’t shown the necessary mental toughness to play well on the road—they had better figure that out and soon.
With cold and snow predicted for this week, the World Series champion Kansas City Royals are close to spring training; the pitchers report on Feb. 19 and the full squad on Feb. 23.
KC’s everyday positions are set and the bullpen will be one of the best in baseball. The only position group that is open to question is the starting pitchers.
Going into spring training, the starting rotation appears to be Yordano Ventura, Kris Medlen, Edinson Volquez, Chris Young, and Ian Kennedy. Danny Duffy and Kyle Zimmer are challengers for a starting slot.
Zimmer is now 24 and he’s been considered an exceptional talent ever since KC drafted him in the first round in 2012; however, Zimmer has been plagued by injuries and so far hasn’t lived up to expectations. That could change quickly—Zimmer has a great arm and should be ready to contribute in a big way.
Duffy is highly effective in the bullpen and KC would like to leave him there, but he could also become an effective starter if needed.
The prediction here is that Medlen will become the ace of KC’s staff, with Ventura a close second. Medlen underwent Tommy John Surgery to his right elbow in 2010, but he’s fully recovered and ready for a great season.
Kansas City’s roster is solid and well-equipped to make another run for the AL Central championship and the opportunity to defend their World Series title.