• Why the Kansas Jayhawks will win the Big 12 ... again

    The Kansas Jayhawks have won the Big 12 title eight seasons in a row, an unprecedented feat for a team in a power conference. Even in a year when they dropped three straight contests to then-unranked opponents, the Jayhawks remain my favorite to finish atop the Big 12.

    They will get a rematch in Stillwater against the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Wednesday night, a team that defeated them, 85-80, in Lawrence back on Feb. 2. The Jayhawks may very well lose that game and fall a game behind the Cowboys in the Big 12 standings. That loss would be a setback for Kansas, which is coming off a 73-47 blowout victory over Texas but it wouldn't come close to erasing Kansas' chances of winning the Big 12 crown.

    Kansas (21-4, 9-3) has a much more favorable schedule than Oklahoma State (19-5, 9-3). The Jayhawks will be looking for revenge against TCU before traveling to Ames to take on Iowa State and playing West Virginia, Texas Tech and Baylor to close out their regular season. Oklahoma State travels to West Virginia and TCU, hosts Texas, travels to Iowa State and hosts Kansas State to end the regular season.

    In most seasons, Bill Self’s club would take care of business down the stretch, and with arguably the Big 12’s best guard in Ben McLemore (the Big 12’s leading scorer in conference play at 17.8 points per game) and the best big man in the Big 12 in Jeff Withey (13.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game this season), Kansas is too good to let another slide happen late in the season, and will close strong like in any other season under Self, whom I consider the best coach in the Big 12. Kansas is a seasoned team, with four senior starters, and should finish the season strong even if it falls to the Cowboys.

    Oklahoma State on the other hand, has a lineup full of freshmen and underclassmen. Its star player is freshman Marcus Smart (16.5 points per game in Big 12 play), who helped deliver its 84-79 victory in overtime over the Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday, with his clutch play down the stretch of regulation. McLemore is also a freshman, so unless the Cowboys win out, he will likely not even earn Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors. Since the Travis Ford era began in 2008, the Cowboys have not won more than nine conference games in a season. With potential traps at West Virginia, TCU and Iowa State, Oklahoma State will probably drop a game down the stretch and, if they fall to Kansas this week, the Jayhawks will run away with it.

    The Jayhawks should win a tight and hard-fought game in Stillwater on Wednesday and win out, good for another conference title for Kansas. I can also see Oklahoma State winning out after falling to the Jayhawks and defeating Kansas State on its Senior Night to knock them out of Big 12 regular season title contention and finishing 14-4 in conference play. Kansas could also lose to Oklahoma State and win out, and as long as the Cowboys fall to someone other than Kansas State or Kansas State loses down the stretch, Kansas’ streak of eight conference regular season championships in a row will become nine. Simply put, until Kansas fails to win the Big 12, it is safe to assume the Jayhawk Dynasty will continue to reign supreme.

  • I guess it’s birthday coverage day: Michael Jordan not the only legend who celebrated a birthday last weekend

    The sports media has decided to dedicate a whole weekend to the coverage of Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday. I’ve seen segments and articles regarding players’ birthdays before, but the coverage of Jordan’s 50th has almost turned it into a holiday.

    Most sportswriters consider him the greatest player in NBA history, so it may be fitting that he should receive that type of coverage. But Feb. 17 has already been claimed. MJ is going to have to share some of the cake with perhaps the greatest player in NFL history: Jim Brown.

    Jim Brown turned 77 on Sunday, 46 years after his retirement from the NFL, back when Michael Jordan was learning how to spell what would eventually be his revered name. In that nine-year football career, Brown displayed one of the most consistent performances by any player to carry a football.

    Drafted in the first round of the 1956 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, Brown would go on to earn eight rushing titles, eight All-Pro selections, nine Pro Bowl selections, three NFL MVP awards, and led Cleveland to an NFL Championship in 1964. He would leave the game at the age of 29, seemingly at the top of his game. Brown rushed for 1,544 yards and 17 touchdowns in his final season in 1965.

    Brown’s reasons to retire included his aspiration to become a movie actor. He would have roles in 53 productions including "The Dirty Dozen," "Mars Attacks!" and "Any Given Sunday."

    Often I wonder what more Brown could have done if he had continued to play football. But that mystery almost enhances his legacy. Most players retire when they become shadows of who they once were. Even Michael Jordan ended his career on a low note with his short stint with the Washington Wizards. With Brown there was no such blemish, almost a perfect career that led to his induction into the Hall of Fame in 1971.

    So before petitions start going out about creating Michael Jordan Day, remember that there is a strong counter-argument for the rights to Feb. 17.

  • Mario Chalmers’ No. 15 jersey retired at halftime against Texas

    It’s been nearly three years since Kansas retired Kirk Kinrich’s No. 10 jersey, but Saturday night another number joined Hinrich’s. During halftime of their game against Texas, the Jayhawks retired Mario Chalmers’ No. 15, marking the 27th time a jersey has been lifted in to the rafters at Allen Fieldhouse.

    Most will remember Chalmers for making the go-ahead shot with seconds left in the 2008 NCAA Championship game against Memphis, a shot that has since been dubbed “Mario’s Miracle.” The infamous basket clinched the Jayhawks’ fifth national title and earned Chalmers a place among other Kansas all-time greats.

    Before the game Saturday night, Chalmers met with the media to reminisce over the shot and his time at Kansas.

    “I remember everything about the shot,” Chalmers said. “Everything from Derrick Rose missing the free throw to Sherron [Collins] bringing the ball up the court to me releasing the ball and watching it go in.”

    Chalmers was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2008 Final Four in San Antonio, but didn’t realize just how much his game-winning shot meant until he returned to Lawrence after the tournament.

    “It sunk in a couple days later once we got back to campus and back to our daily lives,” Chalmers said. “Students started coming up to me and professors were telling me how great a feeling it was.”

    His fame on campus has only grown since 2008, and since winning the 2012 NBA Championship as a member of the Miami Heat he’s become the most recent in a long line of legendary Jayhawks. When asked if anything he has accomplished in the NBA compares to his game-winning shot in 2008, Chalmers paused for a moment before offering an answer.

    “I doubt it,” Chalmers said. “That takes the cake for me.”

    During the ceremony Chalmers walked to midcourt, welcomed by a standing ovation before taking a few minutes to address the sellout crowd.

    “This will always be my home no matter what,” Chalmers said. “There’s no better feeling than being back at the Fieldhouse in front of 16,300.”

  • If NHL players are allowed at the Sochi Games, look for the U.S. to make a run

    They won gold in 1960. It took a miracle to win it again in 1980. They came within minutes of victory in 2008. But 2014 might be U.S. hockey’s best chance ever to bring home the gold – that is, if its NHL stars are allowed to play again.

    We are just about a year away from the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, and one major question remains unanswered: Will NHL players be allowed to represent their countries at the games?

    For the past few days, representatives of the NHL, the Players’ Association, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the International Olympic Committee have been meeting to discuss this question. Talks are scheduled to continue Friday.

    As they always do, several concerns have surfaced: If NHL players are allowed to go overseas for a month to represent their countries, will league television ratings suffer? Many of these departing players are all-star caliber, so how does that affect attendance? These are all legitimate questions to consider.

    The fact remains that NHL players have participated in the last four Winter Games. Despite their absences, league-wide revenue has increased in each of the past six years. So it’s safe to assume that the NHL players should be allowed to participate in next year’s winter games, right?

    We’ll have to leave that up to the negotiators, but for now, let’s assume that the NHL players will be attending the 2014 winter games. This US squad might be America’s most talented team ever. There are a number of great players that the US can select from, and that number has been growing since 2008. Here is the US team I’d like to see on the ice for the 2014 games.

    Line 1:
    C: Joe Pavelski (San Jose)​​​​
    RW: Patrick Kane (Chicago)
    LW: Zach Parise (Minnesota)
    This is a world-class scoring line.

    Line 2:
    C: David Backes​ (St. Louis)
    RW: Phil Kessel (Toronto)
    LW: Max Pacioretti (Montreal)
    All three of these guys can easily score 30+ goals this season.

    Line 3:
    C: Derek Stepan (New York Rangers)
    RW: Dustin Brown (Los Angeles Kings)
    LW: James Van Riemsdyk (Toronto)
    Van Riemsdyk is currently the Leafs’ (8-6-0) leading scorer. An NHL team-leading scorer on the US third line is a testament to the depth this squad would have.

    Line 4:
    C: David Legwand (Nashville)
    RW: Jamie Langenbrunner (St. Louis)
    LW: Ryan Malone (Tampa Bay)​
    Old-timer Jamie Langenbrunner will provide invaluable leadership and international experience.

    Defenseman:
    Jack Johnson (Columbus)
    Alex Goligoski (Dallas)
    Ryan Suter (Minnesota)
    Dustin Byfuglien (Winnipeg)
    Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis)
    Rob Scuderi (Los Angeles Kings)
    Keith Yandle (Phoenix) ​
    This is an elite defensive staff – they are all physically-imposing two-way defensemen.​​​​

    Goaltenders:
    Craig Anderson (Ottowa) – arguably the best goalie in the league right now. Has a .949 save percentage.
    Ryan Miller (Buffalo) – 40+ saves vs. Canada twice in the 2008 winter games. Currently holds a .915 save percentage on weak defensive team.
    Those are two of the league’s best between the pipes.
    This proposed US squad would be supremely talented and competitive. There aren’t any holes and each player contributes a great deal to the team. The 2014 US team should look something like this proposed team. If so, I expect them to play very well against the world next year. Not all of these players will make the team, but as American hockey fans, we can hope.

  • Five non-conference baseball series to follow in the Big 12

    1. (5) UCLA vs. (27) Baylor, Feb. 22-24, Waco - UCLA visits Waco in the second weekend of the college baseball season. The Bruins will be led by starting pitcher Adam Plutko, a preseason All-American who went 12-3 last season with a 2.48 ERA. The Bruins also have relief pitcher David Berg, a preseason second-team All-American, who returns after a 2012 campaign in which he posted a 1.46 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 74 innings pitched. The Bears will counter with 2012 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Nathan Orf at the plate. Orf had a .453 on-base percentage throughout last season, and struck out as many times as he walked (33). Max Garner, Baylor’s closer, is another guy to watch for if the Bears have a lead late in games.

    2. (26) Texas vs. (7) Stanford, Mar. 1-3, Palo Alto, California - The Texas Longhorns will travel back to Palo Alto, looking to avenge last season’s embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Cardinal. During that series, the Longhorns were outscored 28-5 over a three-game span in which they never led. Stanford returns Mark Appel, who won the 2012 NCBWA Pitcher of the Year Award with a 10-2 record, a 2.56 ERA, and 130 strikeouts in only 123 innings pitched. Texas returns most of its squad, and the Appel vs. Erich Weiss battle will be intrigued. Weiss batted .350 with 38 RBIs playing in every game last season should be more intriguing than Weiss’ 1-for-4 against Appel last season. The Longhorns also return Corey Knebel, who is lights out in close ballgames. If Texas can get ahead late in any games of this series, Knebel (career 1.67 ERA and 28 saves) should be able to bring home a "W" for the ‘Horns.

    3. (13) TCU vs. (25) Ole Miss, Feb. 15-17, Oxford, Miss. - TCU opens up its 2013 campaign on the road at a talented Ole Miss team. Mississippi is expecting big things this season, with a preseason rank of No. 13 by Baseball America, its highest ranking ever. The Rebels have senior Tanner Mathis, who hit .359 last season and transfer catcher Stuart Turner Jr., who should help carry the lineup. The stud of TCU’s lineup is Kevin Cron, who hit .338 and drove in 34 RBIs as a freshman in 2012.

    4. (23) Cal State Fullerton vs (13) TCU, Feb. 22-24, Fort Worth - The Titans have perhaps the most versatile player in the college game in junior outfielder/relief pitcher Michael Lorenzen. Lorenzen hit .297 last season with 43 RBIs and 14 stolen bases. On top of all of this he was a stud on the mound, pitching 22 innings with a 1.23 ERA and 16 saves. For TCU, Preston Morrison is the Friday starter having gone 9-2 with a 2.08 ERA as a freshman last season.

    5. Oral Roberts vs. (17) Oklahoma on March 19-20 in Norman, Oklahoma and on March 26th in Tulsa, Oklahoma - Drew Bowden returns as a senior for Oral Roberts as a preseason third team All-American, having posted a 7-2 record and a 1.95 ERA for the Golden Eagles in 2012. If he gets to face off against OU’s Dillon Overton (6-3 record, 3.15 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 122.7 innings last season) their appearance could turn into a pitchers' duel.

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